I facilitate creative thinking sessions for major corporate customers and it is sometimes a challenge to displace the delegates out of their conventional ways of thinking. If I want to generate really creative and unorthodox ideas then I often introduce a random stimulus. The easiest one to start with is the random word.
Just pick up a dictionary and choose a noun at random. Write the word on the top of the flipchart paper and then underneath list 5 or 6 attributes of that word. Then force connections between the word or its attributes and the problem to be solved. You will find that all sorts of new associations spring to mind.
Say the problem is how to attract the best applicants to join your company. The random word from the dictionary is – eucalyptus. You write eucalyptus on the sheet and then list some attributes or associations – say Australia, gum, Koala bear, branches, medecine. Some of the ideas that might be triggered are:
– Recruit Australians and New Zealanders
– Offer the opportunity to take time off and travel the world
– Offer free packs of dental gum to anyone who applies
– Stick notices about your job opportunities on boards at gyms and clubs
– Run a recruitment seminar at a Zoo
– Give applicants a branded teddy bear to show what a caring company you are
– Offer medical insurance and health checks
– Run a publicity event that helps a local hospital
– Show people how their career can branch out if they join your company
Keep adding suggestions until you run out or ideas and then turn over the flip chart and pick a new random noun from the dictionary. Some words work much better than others though you never know which until you try them. I generally find that simple concrete nouns like fish, corner, stick or house work better than abstract nouns like faith or sorrow. But you have to try with whatever you get. When you have a long list of ideas from several random words then you evaluate them using some agreed criteria to select and refine the best ones.
Why does a stimulus like the random word work? It forces the brain to start from a new departure point, to come at the problem from a new direction. The brain is a lazy organ; it will automatically lapse into familiar patterns and solve problems the way it has always done unless you give it a jog and start it from a new point. However, the brain is clever at forcing connections between disparate things so when you prompt your mind with a strange stimulus it responds by finding creative connections.
You can also use random pictures, objects, songs or a walk to introduce brainstorm stimuli. You can bring along a selection of photos of random objects or ask people to bring an object that they think will be unusual (without telling them why). You can also ask people to go for a walk in a city centre or around an art gallery or museum and then tell you about something they saw. That then becomes the starting point for the brainstorm.