Thinkerbot: A new web-based ‘ambient stimulus’ tool for lateral thinking

The Thinkerbot is a new online brainstorming tool that offers a stream of randomly-selected images, video and audio clips from around the web as a means of providing you with 'non-linear inspiration' for your brainstorming sessions.

The Thinkerbot is a new online brainstorming tool that offers a stream of randomly-selected images, video and audio clips from around the web as a means of providing you with “non-linear inspiration” for your brainstorming sessions.

Developed by Nail, an advertising agency based in Providence, Rhode Island, the Thinkerbot’s stream of images, videos and audio has a hyponotic effect, drawing you in and compelling your brain to fill in the backstory of what’s happening in each picture, video and audio clip that appears on screen. This looks like a very effective lateral thinking tool, because you never know what’s going to appear on screen next.

“We wanted to find a way to bring arbitrary stimulus into brainstorming sessions, because we believed that it would help the knock the typically linear human thought process ‘off the tracks’ into fertile new areas,” explained Nail’s managing partner Jeremy Crisp. Content comes from  the latest uploads to Flickr and YouTube.

He said the agency initially developed the Thinkerbot for its own internal use, but then realized that others could benefit from it as well. So they decided to offer it up as a free service on the web.

The app contains a countdown timer, which runs in 30-second segments. When the timer reaches zero, a new image, video or audio clip is automatically loaded on screen, pushing the previously-loaded items down the page – much the same way that a Twitter feed scrolls down the page as new tweets arrive. This ensures that you have a constantly changing selection of inspiration to help you to think creatively. Crisp said that a future version of the Thinkerbot will have an adjustible timer.

“We felt the input needed to be passive — not something so intrusive that it would be disruptive. Rather we felt it should be something that participants of a group brainstorming session could dip into when the they felt they needed a bit of a jolt,” he said. “We typically have it projecting on a wall during a session so it serves as ambient stimulus for everyone in the room.”

When you turn off the timer, the currently selected image remains at the top of the screen. There are also separate buttons for images, videos and audio. Clicking one of them displays a new item of the type you have selected.

Crisp emphasized that the Thinkerbot’s mission is to provide “non-linear inspiration” – to whack the thinking of users in new directions.

“Almost by definition, a surprising or truly creative idea is one that comes from an unexpected direction that no one has taken before. The human brain is hard-wired for logic. That is why creativity is such a rare and prized quality. ‘Non-linear inspiration’ is intended to help our logical brains get a jolt of random in the hopes of finding that unexpected path to the solution.”

Below each item is a button that enables you to e-mail a link directly to the image, video or audio clip, so you can share inspiring images, videos and audio with your colleagues. When I clicked on a button beneath an image in my Thinkerbot stream, a new e-mail form popped up on screen, pre-loaded with the Flickr address of the image I was viewing – very convenient for sharing ideas and inspiration with your team members.

This is a simple creativity tool that anyone can benefit from – whether you’re brainstorming alone or with a group.