Ideation Block? Try Osborn’s Checklist Technique

Example of Osborn’s Checklist technique applied to a camera.

Most of us have experienced writers block. That moment when you stare at a completely blank canvas on your opened word document. Your brain is empty of ideas, yet you need to write. Eventually, after procrastinating away a few days, sheer necessity forces you to crank out whatever mumble of words you can. For the past 10 weeks, I have been taking the intro level course in the Human Centered Design and Engineering department at the University of Washington. One of our design sprints, was to ideate 10 divergent + 10 convergent designs for the mayor of a fictional futuristic city called Marsville, for their 3004–3008 term. Our ideas were supposed to focus on how to improve accessibility or sustainability in commuting. As I had been thinking about how to improve sustainable commuting within heavily polluted settings for a separate project I already had several ideas. However, coming up with 20 different ideas, was not so easy, especially for the first time. This account details my experiences.

For the first couple hours I worked on the assignment, I was lost. With no direction I delved into some different ideation techniques, such as the Osborn’s Checklist technique. Osborn’s Checklist is an ideation technique created by brainstorming guru Alex Osborn, that combines/alters existing elements to synthesize new ideas. The checklist has six categories: modify, combine, rearrange, substitute, minimize, and magnify. Using these principles, my first idea was a Mario power suit. I thought, well, it is 3004–3008, so why not put my favorite character in my homework assignment! I designed a Mario power suit that would allow the user to glide through the city (think Super Mario Bros U 2012). My caption explained the suit as: “Material Scientists have developed a synthetic fiber that allows users to glide in the air like a flying squirrel!” The creativity of this idea was novel, and slightly insane.

I began to think up other ideas with Osborne's technique. What I love about Osborne’s technique is how incredibly simple it is. It provides a pathway for you to take an already existing product, and suggests how to improve upon it in a specific way. It kind of does half the work for you, simplifying the process down to what you can change to something that already exists. And that is precisely why I like it so much.

From that point, I began to take basic modes of transportation, and simply added creative spins. One of my favorites was completely unconventional: a roller coaster track through a densely populated city that would zoom people to their destinations (This idea used the modify and magnify category of the checklist). Additionally, to help limit my ideas to increase my time efficiency, I added the additional constraint of having the modes of transportation be entertaining and exhilarating.

My initial most promising idea was to have a cable car system in a city. Instead of boarding a bus on the road, an air cable car system would be a mode of public transport for civilians around the city. I then thought up 10 convergent ideas about this idea. One of my ideas, for example, took the idea of a small cable car, and combined it with the idea of a bus’ size(category combine on the checklist). I thus created a large cable bus, with organized chairs and seating. Additionally, these ideas were environmentally sustainable, as they used alternative sources of power that would not produce fossil fuels.

Altogether, I conquered my ideation block with the aid of my own creative genius and Osborne’s technique. I recommend anyone else struggling ideating for the first time to try out this incredibly simple yet beneficial method.



“Osborn´s Checklist.” Effective Teamwork Tools — Manual Thinking,[gallery]/0/.

“Osborn Example Map.” Ctrl+Art+Design, 25 Nov. 2014,

“Osborn’s Checklist.” Manual Thinking,