Our minds are great at making connections or associations between seemingly unrelated pieces of information. Surfing the Web can provide you with an almost endless array of idea stimulators, if you adopt an “insight outlook” – the ability to discern how the some of the nuggets of information that pass through your life each day might be adapted to help solve one of your current challenges.
When you’re using the Internet, you are surrounded by potential sources of inspiration. For example, you may find usable ideas and idea stimulators in the form of news stories, articles, illustrations or images on Web pages. Almost any form of Web content can stimulate your mind to make new connections and develop fresh ideas.
John Kao, in his excellent book ‘Jamming,’ has this to say about how the power of computers and the Net can supercharge creativity: “The easy assembly of previously disconnected data, designs, ideas and research findings, made possible by mere keystrokes on a computer — increases the chances that someone will see new connections among them and in doing so generate new insights and ideas.”
Remember, a problem well-defined is already half solved. So before you begin brainstorming potential solutions to your challenge, conduct online research to gather a collection of facts, trends and resources that pertain to it. Here are some of the types of Web content that you may find helpful during this research process:
- Case history articles can give you valuable insights into the strategies that other companies have used to solve problems similar to the ones you face. They can also highlight best practices in a particular area of business operations or strategy.
- E-mail newsletters can also be valuable sources of online inspiration. They often contain advice, techniques and strategies that you can adapt to your situation. Numerous times, when I’ve been working on important projects, one of the many e-newsletters I subscribe to has arrived in my inbox, containing a nugget of wisdom that I needed to know at that time.
- Discussion boards - Try searching online discussion forums for messages that address a challenge or problem similar to yours. One useful search tool is Google Groups (http://groups.google.com), which enables you to search the entire archives of “usenet” Internet newsgroups. You should also consider posting open-ended questions in forums where your customers tend to congregate, to learn more about their needs, or ask them for feedback on your idea or concept (Example: “If a company was to offer a product that did this… how would that help you to do your job more effectively?”). Another innovative use of discussion areas is to use them to identify “lead users” — forward-thinking professionals in your industry or area of work who would be willing to help you to test the prototype of your new product or service.
In my opinion, the Web is the ultimate medium for creativity, because it does such a great job of connecting people with information, and it enables people to collaborate and share ideas in ways never before possible. As we’ve seen, it can also be a powerful catalyst for brainstorming, because it exposes us to more information and ideas that tend to broaden our thinking and problem-solving processes.
The next time you surf the Web, why not adopt an insight outlook, considering everything you see online in terms of what you can learn from it, and which ideas and strategies may have some application to the challenges you now face. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results!
Chuck Frey Senior Editor, founded InnovationTools.com and served as its publisher from its launch in 2002 until the partnership with Innovation Management in 2012. He is the publisher of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the definitive souce for news, trends, tips and best practices for visual mapping tools. A journalist by trade, Chuck has over 14 years of experience in online marketing, and over 10 years experience in business-to-business public relations. His interests include creative problem solving, visual thinking, photography, business strategy and technology. His unique combination of experience and influences enables him to envision new possibilities and opportunities.