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Generating lots of ideas

A key to solving problems is the ability to generate a wide variety of new ideas. I don't know about you but I find this bloody hard and I often keep going round and round in circles over older ideas.

That was until I came across a simple technique that uses a random word generator [0].

Ideas need external stimuli - the kind that we get from social interactions, gossip, exchange of information etc. This makes it hard for someone who may be introverted or locked down at home due to the pandemic. So the question is how can one simulate these random triggers artificially.

That's the problem this technique solves. Here's how it works in 2 phases.

Phase1: Quick thinking (quantity > quality)

  1. Summarize your problem in a short sentence.
  2. Generate a random word.
  3. Quickly come up with 5 words related to the randomly generated word.
  4. Take each related word and run it against the problem summary so your brains spits out something - record that something, we will call this an option.
  5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 until you have lots of options (>100).

Here's a screen grab of a sample I quickly whipped up. random word technique for generating lots of ideas

Lots of options will appear to not make any sense. That's completely normal, don't judge and evaluate them, jot down whatever comes to mind quickly. The objective in phase 1 is to spit out as many options as possible. If something slows you down or you feel stuck, leave it and move on.

I typically like to collect 150-200 options before I get to phase 2.

Phase 2: Slow analysis - all about quality. Grab a cup of tea.

Once we have lots of options, we will slow down and analyse them to find those worth considering. In phase 2, your job isn't to reject an option for what it looks like, instead you must toy with each option in your head to try and imagine how you could make it work.

As you go through phase 2, note down your thoughts. At the end, highlight or catalogue the better ideas. I do this for all my projects several times a month. And so when I hit roadblocks, I always have some winning options ready to consider.

A very small % of the options you create will be insightful, and a smaller % will turn out to be good after validation.

The real strength of this technique lies in volume. You have to generate lots of crappy ideas to find few hidden gems.