When the well runs dry

When the well runs dry - image for article by Greg Alder

Have you ever run out of ideas? I have. For someone who makes a living from coming up with ideas, coming up with no ideas is a big deal.

If you’ve ever been stuck for ideas, what did you do? Most of us panic. Most of us try to somehow think harder to come up with ideas. And the harder we try to find them, the cleverer those ideas get at eluding us.

Where do they go? They go nowhere. The ideas are still out there, in full sight of anyone able to see them. And that’s the catch. When we’re desperate for ideas, when we start searching frantically for them, we look in places where no fresh ideas have lived for eons. We search in the same old familiar places. We rummage through our dusty archive of vast professional knowledge.

We open file after file, hoping for something we might have overlooked previously. Disappointed at finding the same old same old, we throw the files to the floor with disgust.

As our deadline looms, we forage more furiously. Now, even if there were a gem of original thought in there, we’re blind to it. We no longer focus. Everything is a blur.

So, if that’s not the answer, what is? How can you get ideas when the ideas seem to have dried up?

The answer is albatross.

It could just as easily be door mat. Or shoelace.

I’ll explain.

To come up with ideas on demand requires discipline. We wrongly interpret discipline as focus. We think that we’ll get the ideas that elude us by staying focused on the current task, sticking to proven formulae, and combing our vast professional knowledge.

The discipline we need is quite different. We need to apply a creative thinking technique, use it as designed and let it find the ideas for us – and it WILL find ideas. Dozens of them. In as little as half an hour.

How does it work? The most common idea generation techniques are associational thinking tools. The most versatile of these is called Random Word.

Random Word starts by finding a noun, randomly. On a page of a novel or in a magazine, for example – so long as the novel or magazine are unrelated to your business.

You then write down all the properties of your noun – what it’s comprised of. After ten minutes, you’ll have a list of perhaps 20.

Then write down the benefits and behaviours of your noun – how it works and how it’s used.

Now, and here’s the bit that takes a bit of guided practice, force a connection between each property, benefit or behaviour and the task at hand – the thing you need ideas to solve.

Let’s try an example. Say you urgently need clever, fresh ideas for uses of your circuit board manufacturing skills because a major customer has cancelled his contract.

Let’s say your Random Word is mat.

A mat is flexible. Your first idea is a flexible circuit board that can be shaped to fit any application.

A mat is washable. Can you make waterproof circuit boards?

A mat is often made of jute. Can you make a 100% recyclable natural circuit board?

People wipe their shoes on mats. Can your circuit board convert the energy from people wiping shoes on mats into electricity?

These are just a few quick ideas. A small group of people could generate fifty more ideas in half an hour. Experience shows that 10% of those ideas will be brilliant, game changing. Five brilliant ideas in 30 minutes isn’t bad, is it?

Once you have been shown how to use Random Word (and other associational thinking techniques), you have that skill for life. You can draw on it at any stage, working alone or in groups. You can use it to solve any current business problem or create new opportunities.

Your well will never run dry.

(If your business could do with some game changing ideas, let’s talk.)

Credit: Photo by Nik Shuliahin

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