Let’s say you are wrestling with a tough issue – maybe at work, at home, with your children or in your social life. You have been stuck for a while and you can’t seem to make a breakthrough. You want to come up with some really creative ideas. What can you do? Here are ten great practical ways to boost your inventiveness and to crack the problem:
1. Ask why, why? Ask, “why has this issue arisen?” Come up with six different reasons and for each of them ask, “why did this happen?” Keep asking why for each cause. This helps you to better understand the different reasons why this is a problem and so in turn you will see different possible solutions.
2. Sleep on it. Ponder the issue and all its aspects for some time and then put it out of your mind. Get a good night’s sleep. The subconscious mind goes to work and often you come up with great ideas the next day.
3. Talk it over with someone who has nothing to do with the situation. They will often ask basic questions or make seemingly silly suggestions that prompt good ideas. Two heads are better than one but people who are too close to the issue will often come up with the same ideas as you, so try an outsider.
4. Ask how some celebrity would tackle the issue. What would Steve Jobs do? Or Bob Geldof , or Richard Branson, or Salvador Dali or Margaret Thatcher or Madonna or Sherlock Holmes? Take each individual’s approach to its extremes and it will likely give you some radical solutions.
5. Pick up any object at random and say to yourself, “this item contains the key to solving the problem.” Then force some ideas. Try this with several different objects and you will have a selection of radical and inventive ideas.
6. Use similes. Try to think of a different problem in another walk of life that is like your problem. Say you want your staff at work to try new ways of working. You might imagine that this is like getting your children to eat vegetables. List various methods you might use with your children to encourage or persuade them to try vegetables. Then go through the list and then see if any of the ideas can be converted into things you can try at work.
7. Imagine an ideal solution in a world where there are no constraints –e.g., you can use any resource you want. Now work back from that ideal and challenge each of the constraints that is holding you back from achieving it. Many of the obstacles can be overcome when you take this approach.
8. Open a dictionary and take any noun at random. Write down six attributes of that noun – so for tree you might write – root, branch, family, apple, trunk and tall. Then force some links between the word or its attributes and the problem in order to come up with fresh ideas. You will be surprised at how well this works – for individuals or in a group.
9. Ponder the issue and then go for a walk around an art gallery or museum. The range of external stimuli will help you conceive plenty of new ideas.
10. Draw a picture of the situation showing the people and the issues in simple cartoon style. Put it up on the wall and then imagine how the story could develop. Think of it as a cartoon strip. Many people’s brains work better in images than in words or numbers so this can lead to fantastic ideas.
These methods work for individuals and for groups. Try them and see what suits you best. Above all keep reminding yourself – there are some great solutions for my problem – I haven’t found the right one yet but I will!
Paul Sloane runs Creative Leadership and Ideas Workshops to help boost innovation. He is the author of many books. His website is www.destination-innovation.com