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Exercises: Ideation Tools and Techniques

Page history last edited by yazhar 9 years, 3 months ago

Last revision: 24-Oct-2010







“No matter what type of creative work you are doing, it is necessary to start from one or two places — either you research and evaluate the competition, or you isolate yourself in an attempt to do something entirely new.”


There are a few very simple and logical ways that you can become more creative simply by practicing and using certain methods.  From Wikipedia, Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby something new is created which has some kind of value. Scholarly interest in creativity ranges widely: the mental and neurological processes associated with creative activity; the relationship between personality type and creative ability; the relationship between creativity and intelligence, learning and mental health; and ways of fostering creativity through training and technology.

Creativity and creative acts are therefore studied across several disciplines - psychology, cognitive science, education, philosophy (particularly philosophy of science), theology, sociology, linguistics, business studies and economics.



Being creative is frequently defined as doing something new or different. In order to do something new or different, it’s often necessary to fully understand the current status quo — so that you can break out of it. This is why research is a very valuable part of becoming more creative.



Though research is a valuable part of being creative, intentional isolation can sometimes be equally valuable. In many situations, fully understanding the existing market, design trends, or whatever else can unintentionally taint your perspective on the creation of something new.

Isolating yourself during the design or creative process can occasionally yield fantastic results, as you might create something radically different from anything else already out there. A word of caution, though: many creative people over isolate themselves. Isolation is not necessary to create something new and of value, and researching and understanding the existing space is often a far more productive way to be creative. Try both isolation and research, try combining them, and see what works best in your situation.

Whether you’re trying to solve a tough problem, start a business, get attention for that business or write an interesting article, creative thinking is crucial. The process boils down to changing your perspective and seeing things differently than you currently do.

You create your own imaginary boxes simply by living life and accepting certain things as “real” when they are just as illusory as the beliefs of a paranoid delusional. The difference is, enough people agree that certain man-made concepts are “real,” so you’re viewed as “normal.” This is good for society overall, but it’s that sort of unquestioning consensus that inhibits your natural creative abilities, and can lead to Groupthink.

So, rather than looking for ways to inspire creativity, you should just realize the truth. You’re already capable of creative thinking at all times, but you have to strip away the imaginary mental blocks (or boxes) that you’ve picked up along the way to wherever you are today.



10 Mental Blocks to Creative Thinking


1. Trying to Find the “Right” Answer

One of the worst aspects of formal education is the focus on the correct answer to a particular question or problem. While this approach helps us function in society, it hurts creative thinking because real-life issues are ambiguous. There’s often more than one “correct” answer, and the second one you come up with might be better than the first.  Many of the following mental blocks can be turned around to reveal ways to find more than one answer to any given problem. Try reframing the issue in several different ways in order to prompt different answers, and embrace answering inherently ambiguous questions in several different ways.


2. Logical Thinking

Not only is real life ambiguous, it’s often illogical to the point of madness. While critical thinking skills based on logic are one of our main strengths in evaluating the feasibility of a creative idea, it’s often the enemy of truly innovative thoughts in the first place.  One of the best ways to escape the constraints of your own logical mind is to think metaphorically. One of the reasons why metaphors work so well in communications is that we accept them as true without thinking about it. When you realize that “truth” is often symbolic, you’ll often find that you are actually free to come up with alternatives.


3. Following Rules

One way to view creative thinking is to look at it as a destructive force. You’re tearing away the often arbitrary rules that others have set for you, and asking either “why” or “why not” whenever confronted with the way “everyone” does things.  This is easier said than done, since people will often defend the rules they follow even in the face of evidence that the rule doesn’t work. People love to celebrate rebels like Richard Branson, but few seem brave enough to emulate him. Quit worshipping rule breakers and start breaking some rules.


4. Being Practical

Like logic, practicality is hugely important when it comes to execution, but often stifles innovative ideas before they can properly blossom. Don’t allow the editor into the same room with your inner artist.

Try not to evaluate the actual feasibility of an approach until you’ve allowed it to exist on its own for a bit. Spend time asking “what if” as often as possible, and simply allow your imagination to go where it wants. You might just find yourself discovering a crazy idea that’s so insanely practical that no one’s thought of it before.


5. Play is Not Work

Allowing your mind to be at play is perhaps the most effective way to stimulate creative thinking, and yet many people disassociate play from work. These days, the people who can come up with great ideas and solutions are the most economically rewarded, while worker bees are often employed for the benefit of the creative thinkers.  You’ve heard the expression “work hard and play hard.” All you have to realize is that they’re the same thing to a creative thinker.


6. That’s Not My Job

In an era of hyper-specialization, it’s those who happily explore completely unrelated areas of life and knowledge who best see that everything is related. This goes back to what ad man Carl Ally said about creative persons—they want to be know-it-alls.

Sure, you’ve got to know the specialized stuff in your field, but if you view yourself as an explorer rather than a highly-specialized cog in the machine, you’ll run circles around the technical master in the success department.


7. Being a “Serious” Person

Most of what keeps us civilized boils down to conformity, consistency, shared values, and yes, thinking about things the same way everyone else does. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but if you can mentally accept that it’s actually nothing more than groupthink that helps a society function, you can then give yourself permission to turn everything that’s accepted upside down and shake out the illusions.  Leaders from Egyptian pharaohs to Chinese emperors and European royalty have consulted with fools, or court jesters, when faced with tough problems. The persona of the fool allowed the truth to be told, without the usual ramifications that might come with speaking blasphemy or challenging ingrained social conventions. Give yourself permission to be a fool and see things for what they really are.


8. Avoiding Ambiguity

We rationally realize that most every situation is ambiguous to some degree. And although dividing complex situations into black and white boxes can lead to disaster, we still do it. It’s an innate characteristic of human psychology to desire certainty, but it’s the creative thinker who rejects the false comfort of clarity when it’s not really appropriate.  Ambiguity is your friend if you’re looking to innovate. The fact that most people are uncomfortable exploring uncertainty gives you an advantage, as long as you can embrace ambiguity rather than run from it.


9. Being Wrong is Bad

We hate being wrong, and yet mistakes often teach us the most. Thomas Edison was wrong 1,800 times before getting the light bulb right. Edison’s greatest strength was that he was not afraid to be wrong.

The best thing we do is learn from our mistakes, but we have to free ourselves to make mistakes in the first place. Just try out your ideas and see what happens, take what you learn, and try something else. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen if I’m wrong? You’ll often find the benefits of being wrong greatly outweigh the ramifications.


10. I’m Not Creative

Denying your own creativity is like denying you’re a human being. We’re all limitlessly creative, but only to the extent that we realize that we create our own limits with the way we think. If you tell yourself you’re not creative, it becomes true. Stop that.  In that sense, awakening your own creativity is similar to the path reported by those who seek spiritual enlightenment. You’re already enlightened, just like you’re already creative, but you have to strip away all of your delusions before you can see it. Acknowledge that you’re inherently creative, and then start tearing down the other barriers you’ve allowed to be created in your mind.



Creative Methods: How to be Systematically Creative

Despite seeming vague and mysterious, creativity can actually be very logical in many cases. Here are a few methods for being creative:


1 — Combination and Synthesis

Combination and synthesis is the method of being creative by examining ideas from several different existing works, and combining them into something new and different. Many people frown on looking to others for ideas, but in reality almost every creative work is influenced or even directly related to something already out there. This method, combination and synthesis, is probably the most frequently used form of creativity. Side note: you’ll have to do your research if using this method — isolating yourself won’t work.


2 — Intentional Rebellion

Intentional rebellion is a method often used by people who want to appear distinctly creative. It involves researching the existing market or design space, and then intentionally doing something completely different. This method can often produce greatly creative works, but be careful of ignoring very important paradigms simply in the name of creativity (aka, building a website that is creative but entirely unusable).


3 — Sequential Addition

Sequential addition is a creative game where you start from an idea, either one you’ve produced in isolation or one you’ve found by research, and then slowly build, add to, or change the idea in small steps until it no longer resembles the original starting point. This method is useful in trying to imagine the future of a certain type of work or design, and then from there create something that is ahead of the majority.


4 — Outside Influence

Outside influence is the idea of being creative by looking to radically different sources for inspiration sources that are completely unrelated to the work you are doing. For example, if you normally look to other websites for blog post formats or ideas, try looking to magazines instead. Or, even more radically, try adapting a television formula into a blog post. Such outside influences can often provide a very new and interesting jolt to your creativity.


5 — Selective Perspective

Often times when your creativity seems to stop flowing, the idea of selective perspective can help get you started again. Using this creative method, you want to look at your design or project from a very narrow point of view, and imagine how you would finish the project based on just that perspective. Then, you simply repeat this from a different perspective, and try to come up with a new idea yet again. Finally, you can compile and integrate your various points of views into a single, optimum result.


6 — Create and Compare

Create and compare is a strategy based around the idea of isolating yourself and creating something from scratch. Often, when you create something without even looking at the competition you’ll come up with very good ideas — the problem is that it’s easy to overlook other very good ideas that are already in use. With this method you begin entirely in isolation and then compare your ideas to the existing space afterward, when you can make subtle additions and changes without worrying about contaminating your own ideas.



Useful Tools to Amplify Your Creativity

Defining and deciding upon your favorite creative methods is one step towards becoming more creative. Another big gain can be made by integrating the right tools into your creative process. Here are a few that you might take a look at:


1 — Visual Thesaurus

This is a very good twist on the idea of a thesaurus. This tool can be incredibly valuable to writers and even designers in creating new ideas. Check it out →


2 — Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a great way to logically create new ideas, and it’s also invaluable for recording and defining new ideas you’ve already had. There are a number of great programs out there, this list should help you get started.


3 — Prototyping/Sketching

Sketching and prototyping are a designer’s two best friends. If you don’t already have one, get yourself a good notebook that you can easily write and draw in. As for prototyping, I recommend using whatever medium or application you are familiar with that you can work in very quickly (frequently Adobe Illustrator, for designers). Check out this article for more info.


4 — Inspiration Galleries

Sometimes all it takes is a good creative jolt to get you started, and galleries of other people’s work can often provide just that. A few that come highly recommended are Smashing Magazine and Creattica.



Creativity Tools


The tools here are designed to help you devise creative and imaginative solutions to problems, and help you to spot opportunities that you might otherwise miss.



What we mean by creativity here is technical creativity, where people create new theories, technologies or ideas.   Many of the techniques that follow have been used by great thinkers to drive their creativity. Albert Einstein, for example, used his own informal variant of Provocation to trigger ideas that lead to the Theory of Relativity.


Approaches to Creativity

There are two main components to technical creativity: programmed thinking and lateral thinking. Programmed thinking relies on logical or structured ways of creating a new product or service. Examples of this approach are Morphological Analysis and the Reframing Matrix.

The other main strand uses 'Lateral Thinking'. Examples of this are Brainstorming, Random Input and Provocation. Lateral Thinking has been developed and popularized by Edward de Bono.


Taking the Best of Each...

A number of techniques fuse the strengths of the two different strands of creativity. Techniques such as the Concept Fan use a combination of programmed and lateral thinking. DO IT and Min Basadur's Simplex embed the two approaches within problem solving processes. While these may be considered 'overkill' when dealing with minor problems, they provide excellent frameworks for solving difficult and serious ones.


The Creative Frame of Mind

Often the only difference between creative and uncreative people is self-perception. Creative people see themselves as creative and give themselves the freedom to create. Uncreative people do not think about creativity and do not give themselves the opportunity to create anything new.

Being creative may just be a matter of setting aside the time needed to take a step back and allow yourself to ask yourself if there is a better way of doing something. Edward de Bono calls this a 'Creative Pause'. He suggests that this should be a short break of maybe only 30 seconds, but that this should be a habitual part of thinking. This needs self-discipline, as it is easy to forget.  Another important attitude shift is to view problems as opportunities for improvement. While this is something of a cliché, it is true. Whenever you solve a problem, you have a better product or service to offer afterwards.


Using Creativity

Creativity is sterile if action does not follow from it. Ideas must be evaluated, improved, polished and marketed before they have any value. Other sections of Mind Tools lay out the evaluation, analysis and planning tools needed to do this. They also explain the time and stress management techniques you will need when your creative ideas take off.




Ideation is a method of idea generation and communicating, which many corporate offices have recently developed into strategies to incorporate into their current work environments. 

Ideation can be termed as the process by which new ideas are generated.  This creative process allows teams to collaborate, develop and communicate new innovative ideas to the company.  These ideas can be visual, abstract or concrete.  Ideation encompasses a litany of creativity techniques used to elicit more ideas.  These methods promote original thought and usually include the usage of games, toys, or exercises to convey the point of the idea generation exercise.  Examples of these techniques can include white boarding, brainstorming, mind mapping or therapeutic/improvisational problem solving.   


Ideation helps teams come up with new ideas for their company or project advancements yet it also helps team compile major pieces of a project within a timely manner allowing each team member the ability to contribute to the overall success of the end goal objective.



EXERCISES FOR IDEATION – There are several types we will focus on 4 as seen below:



We will be covering the following exercises in this chapter:

  • Brain Walking
  • Mind Mapping
  • Magazine Rip and Rap Collage
  • Carousel Brainstorming
  • Lateral Thinking



Ideation Exercise – Brain Walking 


Brain Walking (or Brain Writing) is a process by which each user writes down an idea and then passes that idea to their neighbor who will then review the idea and build new ideas from that original idea.  The final set of ideas is posted for everyone to read and evaluate.  This method is used to generate ideas quickly between team members ensuring participation from the entire group. 


To facilitate this technique the following steps are used:

Step 1:  The leader of the group will pass out a piece of paper or index card plus markers to all participants.  

Step 2: Then the leader will instruct each participant to write their idea but clearly so other can read it.  

Step 3: The leader will have each participant write down one idea for the assigned topic.  

Step 4: Each participant will then pass this idea sheet to the immediate neighbor making sure that the paper passes in the same direction.  Each person who receives the idea sheet will either, build on/evolve the idea written on the paper – or create an entirely new one. This person will then record the new idea on the paper and then pass it to the immediate neighbor once again.  

Step 5: Each participant will continue passing until each idea sheet has five (or more) ideas on it.  

Step 6: Then each participant will pass the sheets back to the original owner. The original idea owner’s handwriting will be at the top of the paper with all other ideas centered underneath it. 

Step 7: The leader will then have each participant read the best idea(s) from his paper to the group as a whole.  


Brain Writing utilizes a method of reviewing the input (as from each of the neighbors adding their thoughts on the original idea) and contemplating the “output” of ideas (those ideas that result from the first generation of ideas presented within the group).  This movement of ideas allows the original idea to get better with time.  There are other methods that do not build upon the original idea; rather they allow the original idea to remain static and unchanged.  However with Brain Writing, the ideas dynamically grow and change morphing into smaller yet better sets of generated ideas.


Brain Walking Exercise Diagram

In this figure – The user group presents a large number of ideas which are filtered through the group review to ultimately generate a few number of solid ideas.



Ideation Exercise – Mind Mapping

Mindmapping has been popularized by Tony Buzan, a top lecturer on the brain and learning, who dictates that Mind Maps abandon the list format of conventional note taking. According to Buzan, “a Mind Map is a thinking tool that reflects (externally) what is going on (internally)  inside our minds.” Further, Buzan likens the mind map to a Swiss army knife for the brain; with different tools for our brain to function, the Mind Map is the ideal tool for anything we want to do in terms of,

●      Thinking

●      Contemplation

●      Cognition

●      Remembering

●      Creating


Buzan proclaims,“The brain is radiant, meaning it thinks centrally, and explodes out in all directions.” As such, in a Mind Map, branches are curved and tapered rather than straight-lined, they are organic and free flowing, as opposed to structured and uniformed. “The brain thinks by imagination and association, thus the branches on a Mind Map are a reflection of the way the brain thinks. So, when you think of anything, you have your picture, and you have your associations off that.”  “Buzan asserts, “Traditional note-taking in lists and lines is counter-productive is because it doesn’t have the associations. If you don’t have associations, then you don’t have connections. If you don’t have connections, then you don’t have memory or thinking. In a Mind Map the branches are always curved, curvilinear, because nature is curvilinear. If all the branches are straight, it is literally rigid, similar, and therefore, boring. The brain will very quickly become unhappy with a whole bunch of rigid straight lines. The brain gets absorbed and intrigued by the beauty of curvilinear.”


Buzan touts Mind Maps as “straightforward and fun” To draw a Mind Map first start in the center of a blank page, then connect branches to the central key image or key word; and then connect 2nd and 3rd level branches to the 1st and the 2nd and so on. The important point to note in structuring Mind Maps is to use one key word per branch. “That one word with all its associations is “free.” If you put words together on a branch you’re making it more rigid. The single word per line approach gives you much more freedom, much more creativity, much more clarity. Ideally, the length of the word should be the length of the branch; because you want each branch to be connected and close.”


The Purpose

This strategy helps participants quickly relate a central word or concept. The mind forms associations almost instantaneously and 'mapping' allows you to write your ideas more quickly by using only words or phrases.


How to Mind Map

To make a mind map, start in the center of the page with the main idea, and work outward in all directions, producing a growing and organized structure composed of key words and key images.

●      Take a large sheet of paper and place it horizontally in front of you.

●      Draw a reasonably sized (colored) memorable central image that represents the topic you are going to be mapping.

●      Draw at least 4 thick organic looking branches radiating outwards from the central image. Make sure to use a different color to represent each branch.

●      Write “key topic” words along these branches that represent the central image and the topic you are mapping.

●      Draw additional branches that extend from your main branches. The words on these branches are essentially sub-topics of the words you wrote on your main branches.

●      Keep expanding the Mind Map outwards with additional sub sub-topics / key words and branches.


An Example Mind Map: Grouping Materials



Key features are:

●      Organization

●      Key Words

●      Association

●      Create Connections

●      Clustering

●      Visual Memory - Print the key words, use color, symbols, icons, 3D-effects,arrows and outlining groups of words

●      “Outstandingness” - every Mind Map needs a unique center

●      Conscious involvement


The Benefits of Mind Mapping

●      Improved capacity to see the bigger picture.

●      Improved capacity to see detailed information.

●      Improved capacity to remember complex information.

●      Improved capacity to remember related chunks of information.

●      Improved capacity to cope with mental clutter.

●      Improved capacity to cope and manage periods of information overload.

●      Improved imagination.

●      Improved memory and retention.

●      Improved levels of concentration.

●      Improved note-taking ability.

●      Improved level of interest in the content or subject one is studying.

●      Improved problem solving ability.

●      Improved management of study and revision time for Academics.

●      Helps unlock hidden understandings within information chunks.

●      Helps unlock unexpected creative insights and ideas.

●      Helps save time.

●      Helps make learning fun.

●      Clarifies goals.

●      Clarifies plans of action.

●      Clarifies ideas.

●      Clarifies habitual patterns of thinking.

●      Triggers creative associations.

●      Triggers comparison of facts, stats, data and ideas.

●      And much more that is based upon personal experience, need and ability.


Mind Mapping for Work Productivity

Here are some ways people utilize visual mapping at work:

Planning sales strategy.
Planning marketing strategy.
Organizing and managing projects.
Organizing and managing meetings.
Preparing for networking.
Preparing for interviews, and conducting interviews.
Business planning.
Research and development. 


Mind Mapping for Academic Success

Here are some ways students utilize visual mapping at school:

Learning languages.
Learning grammar.
Preparing for examinations.
Preparing structure for essays.
Preparing presentations.
For teaching purposes.
Brainstorming ideas.
Problem solving.
Thinking creatively and critically about topics.
Memorizing subject notes, books and materials.
For general study and revision of information.


Mind Mapping for Life Management

Here are some ways people utilize visual mapping to manage their life:

Managing time.
Managing events.
Goal setting.
Keeping a diary.
Holiday planning.
Financial planning.
Tracking important dates, events and information. 


Mind Maps are useful for:

●      Summarizing information.

●      Consolidating information from different research sources.

●      Thinking through complex problems.

●      Presenting information in a format that shows the overall structure of your subject.

●      problem solving

●      outline/framework design

●      anonymous collaboration

●      marriage of words and visuals

●      individual expression of creativity

●      condensing material into a concise and memorable format

●      team building or synergy creating activity

●      enhancing work morale



Carousel Brainstorming 

When group members are given the opportunity to brainstorm ideas without criticism, to discuss opinions, to debate controversial issues, and to answer questions…wonderful things can happen that naturally improve comprehension and higher order thinking.” Marcia Tate, 2004


Carousel Brainstorming is considered a Best Practice Ideation strategy that “informally assesses the knowledge of the participants and frames the learning around a particular focus, by thinking about subtopics within a broader topic. This is also known as Rotating Review, which is a variation of the Walkabout Review process.” The real value here is that all members of the group contribute to the discussion.


A Carousel Brainstorm is good for generating large numbers of responses to questions or issues. This strategy can be used in any discipline. It is “an active, participant-centered method for generating and sharing large amounts of data. It provides scaffolding for new information to be learned or existing information to be reviewed through movement, conversation, and reflection.” Proponents of this process point out that “because this is somewhat anonymous, even the most reluctant learners are motivated to participate.”

A variation of this strategy is called graffiti — particularly if it has participants producing images as well as words. The difference is that with Graffiti, the sheets are posted on the wall, and the students move around from sheet to sheet. With Carousel Brainstorming, the students stay seated and the sheets are passed. Otherwise, it's hard to tell the difference.


A Carousel Brainstorm is usually about 45 minutes in length. The process begins with a number of different questions posted around the room on easel paper. Participants are divided into small groups and assigned a starting point to begin the brainstorming process. After a few minutes of brainstorming as a small group, they move on to the next question and repeat the brainstorming process. This continues until all groups have had the opportunity to brainstorm around each question.



The specific purposes of the Carousel Brainstorm are the following:

  • Assessing Knowledge, Needs, Interests, and Attitudes.
  • Building a Common Vocabulary.
  • Collecting and Analyzing Data.
  • Exploring Multiple Perspective.
  • Reflecting on Practice.
  • Starting Conversations.
  • Structuring Learning.
  • Tapping Prior Knowledge and Beliefs.



Ground Rules

Set the ground rules for brainstorming activities prior to the exercise.

  • Set a time limit for the brainstorming session.
  • Point out that all ideas are good ideas
  • This is not a time for finger pointing or ridicule
  • Do not judge ideas when presented to the group
  • No talking while people are thinking
  • Record each brainstorming idea
  • Only the person that offers an idea can rescind the idea
  • Everyone takes turns in presenting the idea
  • No talking over each other during the idea presentation.
  • Someone leads the brainstorm session so the group remains focused on the task at hand



This "Carousel Brainstorming" activity was created for the purpose of examining both individual and group beliefs about mathematics and science teaching and learning. It provides a background for creating a collaborative "vision" related to systemic reform.



  • Individual "Thinking Logs" which include a section for "reflecting on beliefs."
  • Easel paper labeled with each of the belief questions (4).
  • Four different colored markers for recording small group brainstorming on the easel paper.


Facilitation Process Notes: 

Ask individual group members to think about their personal beliefs by reflecting and responding in writing to four questions as their first thinking log entry (4-5 min.)

  • Take a few minutes to individually brainstorm and record your ideas related to the following four questions:
    • What are your beliefs about what math and science are?
    • What are your beliefs about how children learn math and science?
    • What are your beliefs about what it means to teach math and science?
    • What are your beliefs about how we know that children have learned math and science?


Describe for group members that they will be sharing their beliefs with a small group (3-5 people, depending on the size of the larger group) and then will be asked to record their individual ideas on the easel paper by either piggy-backing on an idea that is already listed or adding a new idea. Explain that effective brainstorming requires that all ideas are accepted without judgment.


Ask group members to "count-off" by fours and explain the steps in using the "carousel" brainstorming technique: Small groups will begin by responding to one of the four questions and then will rotate clockwise every few minutes to the next question, similar to a real carousel. Develop a signal (preferably a silent one) to let groups know when it is time to move to the next question.



Ideation Exercise – Magazine Rip and Rap Collaging 

                What is it?

Magazine Rip and Rap Collaging is an Ideation technique to help generate ideas.  Magazine images and words are extracted and glued to paper in the form of a collage. (Matimore)

Why use it?

The theory is that humans like images and are more able to initiate new concepts based on visual stimuli.  (Buzan) (Matimore)

Facilitation Instructions for a group (Matimore)

■      Break participants into teams of three

■      Pass out magazines containing a lot of images to each team

■      Pass out scissors, glue and something to paste images onto (like large sheets of paper) to each team

■      Identify the topic for all participants

■      Ask each team to work with its own participants to cut out any pictures or words that feel even remotely related to the topic.  Then they should paste those onto the paper as they feel appropriate. 

■      Remind participants not to criticize one another’s selections.

■      They should add their own words, themes and images to the collage to define relationships and tell a “story”.

■      Give participants about 30 minutes to collage.

■      Ask each team to present their collage to everyone else.

■      Record new ideas the collage presentations generate.

Notice (Matimore)

■      The exercise should be relaxing and fun for everyone

■      Although time consuming, there should be a lot of new ideas



Ideation Exercise – Lateral Thinking


Lateral thinking is a phrase coined by Dr. Edward de Bono as a counterpoint to conventional or vertical thinking.  Lateral Thinking refers to solving problems through an indirect and creative approach. Lateral thinking is about reasoning that is not immediately obvious and about ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.


Edward de Bono was born in Malta in 1933. He attended St Edward's College, Malta, during World War II and then the University of Malta where he qualified in medicine. He proceeded, as a Rhodes Scholar, to Christ Church, Oxford, where he gained an honors degree in psychology and physiology and then a D.Phil in medicine. He also holds a Ph.D from Cambridge and an MD from the University of Malta. He has held appointments at the universities of Oxford, London, Cambridge and Harvard.   Dr Edward de Bono is one of the very few people in history who can be said to have had a major impact on the way we think. In many ways he could be said to be the best known thinker internationally.  He has written numerous books with translations into 34 languages (all the major languages plus Hebrew, Arabic, Bahasa, Urdu, Slovene, Turkish etc).  He has been invited to lecture in 52 countries around the world.


Lateral Thinking will teach you how to think creatively, turn problems into opportunities, find alternative solutions, & dramatically increase your number of new and practical ideas using unconventional thinking techniques normally untapped by our usual ways of thinking.


Lateral thinking is more concerned with the movement value of statements and ideas. A person would use lateral thinking when they want to move from one known idea to creating new ideas. Edward de Bono defines four types of thinking tools:

  • Idea generating tools that are designed to break current thinking patterns—routine patterns, the status quo
  • Focus tools that are designed to broaden where to search for new ideas
  • Harvest tools that are designed to ensure more value is received from idea generating output
  • Treatment tools that are designed to consider real-world constraints, resources, and support[1]



It can help with brainstorming business ideas, whether they be new features, new products, new services, or enhancements on current offerings. It can help with your marketing campaign, especially in social media and viral marketing, where clever and creative hooks can expand your reach exponentially.

It can help with your operations too. Take a look at your current distribution system, accounting system, or product development process.  Look at it from someone else’s perspective.  Are there ways to improve those processes?  If you tore down all preconceptions and assumptions, are there new alternatives you hadn’t considered before?

  • Constructively challenge
  • Find and build on the concept behind an idea to create more ideas
  • Solve problems in ways that don t initially come to mind
  • Use alternatives to liberate and harness the creative energy of the organization
  • Turn problems into opportunities
  • Select the best alternate ideas and implement them

Not only people who devise strategy or work in R & D, but anyone who wants a disciplined process for innovation, idea generation, concept development, creative problem solving, or a strategy to challenge the status quo.  If you face fast-changing trends, fierce competition, and the need to work miracles, you need Lateral Thinking.



The Lateral Thinking Techniques


Alternatives: Use concepts to breed new ideas. Concepts are general ideas or general ways of doing things. Every concept has to be put into action through a specific idea. Thinking of a variety of specific ways to implement a concept is one way to generate ideas. Then each specific idea can be mined for additional concepts. Extracting a new concept creates a whole new pathway for generating further specific ideas.


Focus: Sharpen or change your focus to improve your creative efforts. This technique helps sharpen or change your perspective to improve your creative efforts. “Focus” is not commonly thought of as a tool, but it is. For example, you can learn to focus on areas that no one else has bothered to think about. Doing so may lead you to a breakthrough idea simply because you are the first person to pay any attention to this area.


Challenge: Break free from the limits of accepted ways of operating. This technique helps you break free from the limits of accepted ways of operating. Challenge is key to innovation because it is based on the assumption that there may be a different way to do something even if there is no apparent problem with the current way of doing it.


Random Entry: Use unconnected input to open new lines of thinking. This technique uses a randomly chosen word, picture, sound, or other stimulus to open new lines of thinking. This tool plays into the power of the human mind to find connections between seemingly unrelated things.  First, the person or group lists all the alternatives that they can think of without using the tool, Then they select a random word or other random stimulus. Then they juxtapose the stimulus alongside the focus topic and generate ideas to connect the two.


Provocation: Move from a provocative statement to useful ideas. This technique helps us move from a provocative statement to useful ideas.  Employees are often admonished to “think outside the box” with no instructions for how to do so. Provocation & Movement designate a formal process that enables you exit the box with ease—and return with a compelling list of innovative ideas to consider.  First participants learn the definition of a Provocation, or PO. Then they prepare for the uncomfortable fact that Provocations are deliberately unreasonable ideas that would be immediately vetoed by those who do not understand the process.


Harvesting: Select the best of early ideas and shape them into useable approaches. This technique is applied toward the end of a thinking session in order to bank ideas that may prove to be valuable in the current situation or in the future.  Harvesting both increases the number of ideas that are saved and provides a way to organize ideas by how developed they are at present. Harvesting helps you spot ideas that could be implemented right away as well as those that need more work. By Harvesting, you can avoid moving too quickly to choose among all of the ideas you’ve generated. Instead, take a longer look and make the most of the “yield.”


Treatment of Ideas: How to develop ideas and shape them to fit an organization or situation. This technique helps develop ideas and shape them to fit an organization or situation.  Treatment is particularly useful for working with Beginning Ideas to make them more specific and practical. One Treatment method is called Shaping. Here you think of any constraints that might interfere with the execution of the idea. Then you shape the idea to fit within these constraints.



Four critical factors associated with lateral thinking:

  • Recognize dominant ideas that polarize the perception of a problem
  • Search for different ways of looking at things
  • Relaxation of rigid control of thinking
  • Use of chance to encourage other ideas

Prior to the strategic planning process, it is useful to enable creative and lateral thinking.  Exercises are for fun, but also help people expand their disciplinary boundaries.



Word Expansion




How many squares can you see in this figure?





4x4 = 16

3x3 = 9

2x2 = 4

1x1 = 1

Total 30



Connect the nine points below with four straight lines without lifting your pen or pencil from the paper.







Assumption: The lines must pass through the center of the dots. If you draw lines that just touch the dots, you can solve the puzzle in just three strokes.



Assumption: The paper must be flat. Roll the paper into a tube. It’s possible to connect the dots with a spiral.



Assumption: You cannot rip the paper. Tear the paper into nine pieces with one dot on each, and connect all the dots by poking a hole through all the dots with your pencil.



Remove 2 matchsticks from this figure to make 2 squares remain



How to Develop Your Lateral Thinking Skills

Lateral thinking is a special form of "thinking outside the box". Technically it is a way of intentionally coming at a topic or problem from a different point of view. But it also is creative way of thinking you can develop as a background habit.  As with anything you want to do well, the more you practice lateral thinking, the better you will be at it.


Difficulty: Moderate


  1. Emulate lateral thinkers.

A major part of lateral thinking is experience, and the first step of experience is seeing it in action. However, most of us don't notice when others are doing it. You have to pay attention and look for it. When someone comes up with surprising answers or seems to think differently from others, pay attention to what they say and do. You can ask them questions about how they come up with their answers, but even just noticing that they are doing it is the first step.

  1. Study subjects you know nothing about, especially if they involve skills.

Part of lateral thinking is being able to get into another mindset. If you are used to numbers and spreadsheets, read about creative writing, or poets. If you are a poet you can benefit by reading about mathematicians and physicists. You don't have to become one, but when you open your mind to just learn about how others think - what issues and problems and tools they use - you prepare your mind to think in different ways.

  1. Practice your lateral thinking with creativity exercises.

Spend some time each week, or better yet each day, pushing your mental envelope. You can see some links to some creativity exercises in the resources section below, but you can also make up your own.

Lateral thinking in particular is all about bringing together things that are seemingly unrelated. So start with a topic or problem, and then find random objects or words or concepts to relate to the topic. Or you can push the envelope of your thinking in other ways by making a list of things that are outlandish versions of the problem or issue - exaggerate it, make it bigger or smaller. If something is straightforward and objective, like making coffee, find moral and emotional issues related to it. Get ridiculous, get silly. The key here is, though, to get DIFFERENT.  Use every exercise you find, but also invent your own. You need both outside and inside input to think in a lateral way.

  1. Look for ways to apply what you learn in everyday life.

Lateral thinking, like any skill, takes time to learn. And as with any skill, you learn more by applying it to real problems than you do by just doing exercises. After you get good at the exercises, start collecting issues and problems in your real life to start thinking laterally about, and set aside time to think about it. It could be anything from your need to find more time to spend with your kids, to how to decide who to vote for, to how to get a promotion or better job




The evolution of Ideation have surfaced from the original origins of basic research and development efforts and have lead the way for people to create and look for new vehicles for communication and effective team authoring of content.  The usage of tools and techniques that allow better collaboration improve the idea generation process and provide increased opportunities for success based on the new ideas. 

The three basic steps to Ideation are:  1) Explore possibilities, 2) Generate New Concepts, and 3) Discovery of new opportunities.  These basic steps are advantages for innovators to either seek others with divergent thinking styles, or look for multiple ways without ruling anything out.  Ideation is different from traditional validation market research (Simpson).  Focus groups or traditional market groups are solely about validating ideas, weeding out the bad ideas and to correct misconceptions.  Targeted Ideation is designed to transcend our current ideas to find innovative steps, features and services that will drive the core vision and beat the objectives.  The disadvantages to Ideation can be summed up by the following:  when linking disparate ideas others reviewing the new ideas may not see the intended connections being made by the presenter or group.  This has a tendency to lead to criticism or in some cases skepticism which can ultimately kill the creative thinking process. 

Overall Ideation can provide a sound foundation for idea generation and management often leading to great success for those that intend on using either methodology.

     For additional consideration, here are some more exercises:
  • The Wish Technique
  • Bill Boarding
  • Problem Redefinition
  • Whiteboarding
  • 20 Questions
  • Idea Naming
  • Mind Mapping
  • Scamper




How to Mind Map: A Beginner’s Guide


Mind Map



What is Mind Mapping?


Mind Maps, A Powerful Approach to Note taking http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_01.htm

What is Mind Mapping?



Mind Mapping – Basic Rules


Maximize the Power of Your Brain - Tony Buzan MIND MAPPING http://www.youtube.com/v/MlabrWv25qQ?fs=1&hl=en_US


What is Mind Mapping?


Mind Maps



How to Make a Mind Map – Version 1



Example of a Mind Map



Carousel Brainstorming


Carousel Brainstorming (Instructional Strategies)



Strategies for Reading Comprehension: Carousel Brainstorm
[recommended by Susan Rubel of Connecticut]


A “Carousel Brainstorm” Group Process






Demonstrating Understanding of Authentic Pedagogy



Carousel Brainstorming



Carousel Brainstorming



Carousel Brainstorming AKA Rotating Review





MATIMORE, BRYAN.  2008. Ideation Techniques. The Growth Engine Company, Norwalk, CT.    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBIQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.technologyforge.net%2Fenma%2F6020%2F6020Lectures%2FIdeation%2FENMA291IdeationReferences%2FENMA291IdeationTechniques.pdf&rct=j&q=ideation%20collaging&ei=LI-3TNOyGszGswag_NjWBg&usg=AFQjCNH3ne_wkwpBhhaR52emzTAQglRWdQ&sig2=dU91N9dizZViwfNYQLj6Sw&cad=rja

BUZAN, TONY.  1996. The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain's Untapped Potential.  Plume, New York ,NY.

Comments (4)

Charles Fritz said

at 9:49 pm on Nov 1, 2010

I enjoyed reading the material. I am wondering if this is a little too long for an exercise. The definition for creativity you used seems a little soft maybe there is a more concrete definition out there. The background information is very informative, especially the exercises and examples used. The links in the useful tools to amplify your creativity section were very helpful in understanding your point. I believe above one of your tables that states EXERCISES FOR IDEATION – There are several types we will focus on 5 as seen below; should just read exercise for ideation. I do feel there is a place for the graphics and helped again understand your points. I am not sure if this is an issue or not but Carousel Brainstorming should only be highlighted once. Finally, it was well written I am just confused on the proper length for an exercise.

M Cervantes said

at 3:05 pm on Nov 1, 2010

Lots of ideation concepts, great concepts/exercises/references for generating ideas and ways to address it.

Joseph Howerton said

at 12:53 pm on Oct 17, 2010

Carousel brainstorming is mos def interesting. We willl be including it in our chapter development. And yes, we'll be including Creativity. Thanks for the head's up/feedback Dr. T.

terbush@... said

at 10:06 am on Oct 13, 2010

Anything on creativity? Some of the work using directed carousel brainstorming is new and very interesting.

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