So, you’re not the creative type?
I have good news! In 4 Harmful Innovation Myths, I explain that creativity isn’t what most people think it is. In this post, I’ll show you how to use simple lateral thinking tools to break your mental block and get fresh ideas flowing again.
Intentionality can force important things to happen. That’s why I love the concepts around lateral thinking.
Surprise yourself with lateral thinking!
Your project team can quickly go from stuck in the mud to unexpected solutions. The exercises presented here can help you uncover thought patterns that were not initially obvious.
While trying these prompts, keep the following in mind:
- This isn’t an exact science. There is no guarantee that lateral thinking will result in a breakthrough, but it can be a catalyst for new ideas when you’re stuck.
- Treat these like games! They work best if you’re trying to have fun while you do them. Try turning them into a competition.
- Quantity over quality. Don’t edit yourself too early trying to find the best idea. Instead, try to find as many ideas as possible and edit the list later.
- Set very short time limits. Try to come up with a dozen or more ideas in ten minutes! The ideas do not need to be refined or proven at this point.
Exercise #1: Use Randomness
In lateral thinking vernacular, this approach is called random entry.
Take a problem statement you have (what you need to solve), and then introduce a random word blindly drawn from a list. I like using “nouns” on this random word generator. Set your ten-minute timer and use your random word to find as many ways to solve the problem as possible.
Some people struggle at first. That’s OK, don’t give up!
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Let’s say you are trying to solve a major upgrade problem and you draw the word “tiger.” How can a tiger help with an upgrade? In frustration, you may say that there is no way you can come up with a dozen different ways!
But here’s the beauty of it!
The English language is full of multiple meanings, relationships, references, and metaphors! You don’t have to be literal with your random word. Heck, you can even use the OPPOSITE of your random word! The intent is to get ideas flowing, so don’t limit yourself.
Now, back to our example problem. How can a tiger help spur your upgrade ideas? Consider these possibilities:
- A tiger has stripes. If you “striped” the upgrade by applying partial pieces over time, would that help?
- A tiger lives in the jungle, where you’ll find vines. Consider if the update can wrap around existing pieces at first until they grow bigger.
- A tiger has a loud roar. Perhaps the team needs to be louder within the company as to the resources needed and the issues they are facing.
- The Detroit Tigers are a Major League Baseball team. Maybe the project team needs to stop striking out trying to hit a grand slam and take the less heroic, but effective, bunt.
- A tiger has big claws that puncture. What if you poke a “hole” in something?
- The book/movie Life of Pi has a tiger on a boat learning to survive in a new environment. Can you consider an unusual pairing?
- Tony the Tiger is GGGGREAT! Frosted Flakes are double packaged in a plastic bag and a cardboard box. Could double protection help your solution?
I won’t list out a full dozen examples here, but you can now see how to spin your random word into lateral ideas that you can use.
You may come across the perfect solution during this exercise, or you might not. But either way, you will have broadened your pool of ideas, and you may have spin-off ideas later when you review your list of random entry creations.
Exercise #2: Provoke Creativity
We’ve all had that one person in our lives who is endlessly aggravating! They frustrate you, but you later realize that they are pushing you to be better.
In the same way, you can provoke your own ideas to come out. You can use tools such as:
- Wishful Thinking: What could you do if everything was perfect? Then, how do you take the first steps in that direction?
- Exaggeration: What would it look like if you took it to the max? Turn a molehill into a mountain and imagine what that would be like in your project.
- Reversal: What if you did the exact opposite of what was being asked of you? If your competition zigs, then maybe you should zag.
- Disproving: Take anything considered to be an accepted truth and question it. This can uncover groupthink and remove the tendency of teams to be overly cautious. Disproving real or perceived constraints can be very rewarding!
- Role Playing: Consider how other people would solve the problem. Pretending to be someone else helps break you out of your mental ruts. How would Steve Jobs solve the problem? How would your competitor solve the problem? How would your mother solve the problem?
Real-world innovations have benefited from lateral thinking.
The example of tiger striping above came from a previous team I was helping who used random entry to expand their options. The team decided to create upgrade “bands” (or striping) to help make the process less painful for the stakeholders and more manageable for the project team.
I have also seen wishful thinking provoke actionable ideas for a client. The company was struggling with an industry-wide issue where the status quo was deeply ingrained in the whole process. They were viewed as slow and costly. In-person meetings were still required. They were losing revenue as customers began taking the do-it-yourself approach. The wishful thinking exercise allowed the client to step out of their reality and envision a process that would delight their customers. It didn’t happen overnight, but the client eventually turned the tides for the industry.
You don’t have to be “the creative type” to come up with solutions. Most people solve problems every day and never consider it “creative.” But it is!
Our misunderstanding about creativity and innovation is a limiting factor. We need to realize that ideas do not arrive out of thin air, they can be intentionally spurred. So, try it out. Go and generate some ideas on purpose!
If you’d like a partner in expanding your idea creation, reach out to your Perficient account manager, or use our contact page to begin a conversation.