Huge raindrops are hammering the window, the cats are snoring on the sofa, and I'm trying to find motivation for getting through my to-do-list, while feeling the pressure of coming up with new ideas for the new season, which is just around the corner. It's this time of year when I feel that pressure most, and sometimes that feeling can be super counter-intuitive, which is why I'm so interested in discovering new (and old) techniques to help with the process of idea-generation.
Today I'm looking at an old favourite from the ‘brute force' camp of thinking, using random words to help spark new thoughts and ideas. In order to get any new ideas, you need to always be creating new sets of patterns in your mind. A brute force method is all about finding ways to force connections between things that wouldn't normally be associated together. Our brain is very good at making many connections seem obvious, telling us that ‘fish & chips', or ‘ham & cheese' go together, or how about ‘mother & daughter', or ‘music & dancing', all things that help us categorise the world around us and make sense of it.
The one place where we are generally used to seeing less obvious juxtaposition of things and ideas is art, especially modern art, where subjects with seemingly no relation might be put together to provoke the mind. This is the place we want to try to get to, with a simple tool which we can adopt to the matter at hand. Brute force works because our mind can't resist connecting things, no matter how remote they seem, all we need to do is to pay attention to what we are giving our mind to process, and make a concentrated effort to see connections between unlikely things.
Make it random
Here's where random words come in. Nothing happens until you start thinking, and a random word will jolt that process into action. The word you bring into your challenge must be truly random. If we let ourselves choose a word the mind will every time select one with some relevance to what we're thinking about. A truly random word will spark new ideas, a ‘vetted' one will just have you thinking in circles. Here are some ways to select random words:
- You can get a random word from a dictionary. Open it randomly and point on the page with your eyes closed and see where your finger lands. Remember that you'll have to use the first word you land on, giving yourself the freedom to skip words will defy the purpose and you will just keep going until you find one that ‘relates'.
- You can use a table of random numbers to help you select a page in the dictionary, and a word on the page.
- You can find many random word charts via google. The better ones will be designed with words that are known to help with problem-solving. The best words are usually, simple, familiar and somehow visual, which will make it easier to make new connections.
Once you have your word the first thing you can do is think of all the things that are associated with that word. Let's say that we landed on ‘vase'. Other words related to a vase could be flowers, water, design, materials such as glass, porcelain, metal and enamel, actions such as filling, refreshing and emptying. Vases are functional, but can also be purely aesthetic, etc., etc.
Then move onto forcing connections. Let's say your challenge is ‘how to offer better customer service?'
- Vases can be filled up. How could you fill your customer experience with things that bring joy?
- Vases can be emptied. How could you remove things from your process or materials, which doesn't serve your client? Or how could you make sure all their concerns are pre-emptied?
- Vases are functional but also beautiful. How could you make your customer facing information more appealing?
- Vases break. How could you avoid situations that might fracture a client relationship, have you thought of all the possible breaking points?
- Flowers die when vases are empty. Are you making sure you set boundaries that won't leave you drained and not able to serve your clients the best you can?
Keep going for five minutes or so. You might find that afterwards your mind will still be processing the challenge in the background, and new ideas will pop up later on. Do remember to write down all the ideas that surface, get into the habit of carrying a notebook (or a note-taking app) and documenting all your ideas as they come. You might think you'll remember them later, but trust me, you won't!
What kind of ideas did you land on with this method? Do share in the comments below!