How To Generate Creative Ideas Easily

Ideas are the starting point for creativity

Ravi Shankar Rajan
Feb 11 · 8 min read
Image Credits: unsplash.com Kaleido

Creativity is ubiquitous.

Creativity is the greatest rebellion in existence. Creators cannot follow the well-trodden path. They have to search out their own way; they have to inquire in the jungles of life.

Brian Clegg and Paul Birch write in their book “Instant Creativity” that creativity is elusive. There is “artistic creativity,” which involves writing a book or producing a piece of music, and there is the “creativity of discovery,” in which we discover or invent new products and things, and finally, there is the “creativity of humor,” which involves seeing the world differently. From the perspective of organizational, business, or work challenges, creativity or solving with creative ideas usually involves all three aspects.

So far so good.

But the one question on everyone’s mind is how to generate creative ideas.

Do we have any methods in place that help us generate ideas at will?

The short answer is yes.

Some ways to generate creative ideas are as follows:


Forced Randomization

Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.

In simple words, it means that you should compel yourself to find the unusual in normal things. By doing so, you combine ideas in a random fashion to give yourself the most chances of uncovering interesting connections.

There are a number of interesting techniques to do this:

The Japanese game of shiritori is an easy way to guide your brainstorming session, whether you’re looking for ideas for a new project, book, or physical product.

The basic idea behind shiritori is that you start with a word and then come up with another word that starts with the letter the first word ends with. Tweak this to apply to brainstorming by thinking of ideas as well as the next word.

As toy developer Shimpei Takahashi explains in his TED Talk, let’s say you start with the word cat. In his case, he designs toys, so what would a cat-themed toy look like? Then moving on, something that starts with t, maybe toothbrush. How can you turn a toothbrush into a toy? And so on…

Most of the ideas you come up with won’t necessarily be very useful, but that’s okay because the goal is simply to come up with as many ideas as possible. You’re bound to end up with one or two great ones, and the important part of brainstorming has already happened: You’ve opened the floodgates and you’re thinking creatively.

Random input is a creative thinking strategy associated with Edward de Bono and his lateral thinking programs. Lateral thinking is thinking that, instead of continuing to move in familiar directions, takes off laterally to new and innovative places.

De Bono’s writings are based on the assumption that lateral thinking strategies can be taught and systematically applied to problems. One of these strategies is random input or random entry.

Random input entails using a random word, picture, or even sound to open new lines of thinking. The idea is not to directly solve the problem using the random word but to use the random word to help your mind begin thinking in new directions.

Use the alphabet. Think of ideas beginning with each letter of the alphabet and by the end of this exercise, you’ll have 26 new ideas. In trying to come up with your party theme, for instance, you may run down the alphabet and churn out ideas for each letter: Aztec, Bohemian, countries, dinosaurs, elements, fantasy, Greek, heroes, India, jewels… and the list goes on.


Ask “What Might Have Been?”

Counterfactual thinking is a concept in psychology that involves the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred; something contrary to what actually happened.

Counterfactual thinking is, as it states, counter to the facts. These thoughts consist of the What if? and the If I had only… that occur when thinking of how things could have turned out differently. Counterfactual thoughts include things that — in the present — could never happen in reality because they solely pertain to past events.

According to the research surrounding the process of counterfactual thinking, looking at a situation that has already occurred and asking yourself, “What could have happened?” can boost creativity for short periods of time.

According to an analysis done by researcher Jeremy Dean:

· Analytical problems are best tackled with a subtractive mindset: thinking about what could have been taken away from the situation.

· Expansive problems benefited most from an additive counterfactual mind-set: thinking about what could have been added to the situation.

Some examples:

“What if Roger Federer was a basketball champion instead of tennis?

“What would happen if we live beneath the earth’s surface?”

“What will happen if I add that generic exception class to my code?”

And so on…


Eliminate “Functional Fixedness”

Functional fixedness is the inability to realize that something known to have a particular use may also be used to perform other functions. When one is faced with a new problem, functional fixedness blocks one’s ability to use old tools in novel ways.

Overcoming functional fixedness first allowed people to use reshaped coat hangers to get into locked cars, and it is what first allowed thieves to pick simple spring door locks with credit cards.

In short, you get stuck (i.e. fixed) on that sole specific function of the object, so you’re inhibited from thinking of any more creative uses for it to help in your current situation.

The key to escaping the trap of functional fixedness is thinking of objects in more generic terms. To this end, Tony McCaffrey, a psychology Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, developed the generic parts technique (GPT).

This technique involves first breaking things down into their component parts with more generic descriptions (e.g., a candle has a wick, which qualifies as a string in general), then asking yourself how you can use that component to solve the problem (e.g., how having a string can help). Its results: People trained in GPT solved eight problems 67% more often than those who weren’t trained.

Thus thinking more plainly in such generic descriptions helps you move toward generating effective solutions and creative ideas.


Wear Six Hats

This is a useful concept created by researcher Edward de Bono, which involves looking at a problem or decision from six separate perspectives by wearing six different hats.

Each hat is marked with a different color and represents the following type of thinking:

The White Hat represents facts, information, and statistical data, as well as identifying missing information and from which sources it may be collected.

The Red Hat symbolizes emotions and feelings. While wearing this hat, people are “allowed” to express their feelings about the subject or to share their general mood, which might be affecting their participation or lack of it. This hat does not require logical reasoning or justification, as feelings are almost always subjective rather than rational.

The Yellow Hat signifies positive rationality and is used to look at the positive aspects of a situation or idea, the potential benefits of the suggested course of action, and the parties who are expected to profit from it.

The Black Hat is in a way the opposite of the Yellow Hat. It is used for discussing the negative repercussions of the plan, the potential dangers, and any criticism on the logic of arguments made in its support.

The Green Hat stands for creativity and unconventional thinking. When wearing this hat, people are encouraged to think creatively. Brainstorming, creative thinking tools, lateral thinking, and other such methods are to be used in order to search for unexpected developments of the idea or the discussion.

The Blue Hat represents process control. It’s the hat worn by people chairing meetings, for example. When facing difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking.

The six hat technique can be used in collaborative creativity for best results.

For example, say you wanted to talk about a new product. The white hat would have people talking about it only in terms of facts and figures, data and numbers. Another section (yellow hat) would have euphoric people discussing the wonders that would follow from using the product. Another section (black hat) would have a very negative person pointing out the dangers of using the device, but at the same time, a creative engineer (green hat) will be working on solutions for the problems raised by the black hat. A final section (red hat) would have people getting very emotional about the product, jealous of people who have it, or very protective of it.

In a nutshell, the whole concept is based on looking for alternatives, identifying worst-case scenarios and creating contingency plans to account for everything.


And Lastly, Create Intentional Constraints

When we have less to work with, psychologists have found that we actually begin to see the world differently.

Patricia Stokes is a Columbia University psychologist and an expert in the science of creativity. In one experiment she conducted back in 1993, rodents were forced to press a bar with only their right paws. Eventually, they not only learned to adapt to that constraint, but they figured out how to press the bar in more ways than a group that had free use of their limbs. This has come to be called little ‘c’ creativity — a form of creativity not focused on producing creative works but rather on solving practical problems through new uses and applications of resources.

Resource abundance can actually be counterproductive. And this is the very reason that frugal innovations are coming up rapidly from developing countries where resources are limited and creative thinkers have to work with whatever is available.

In Kenya, for example, Pad Heaven makes reusable sanitary towels from banana fibers, and Ecopost uses plastic and agricultural waste as a resource to manufacture sustainable materials for the building, construction, and transport industries.

India is also a hotbed of frugal innovations, which spread across sectors. For example, Saral Designs markets an automatic machine that allows organizations to produce low-cost sanitary napkins, Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti provides the Jaipur foot — a low-cost prosthetic leg, and Banka Bioloo sells sanitation systems that eliminate the need for off-site disposal of human waste. Each of these products highlights how such innovations can be game-changers.

In other words, creativity appears to be less an inborn personality trait and more a response to environments and situations that compel the person to make the best use of whatever resource is available.

Ernest Hemingway once said his best work was a story he wrote in just six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” And with that, he created a whole new genre of six-word stories.

Examples of intentional constraints are endless. Our problems, challenges, and opportunities may become more manageable with constraints that direct us to make the best out of what we have.

As aptly observed by Jeff Bezos.

I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.

About the author:

Ravi Rajan is a global IT program manager based out of Mumbai, India. He is also an avid blogger, Haiku poetry writer, archaeology enthusiast, and history maniac.

Better Programming

Advice for programmers.

Ravi Shankar Rajan

Written by

Technology Manager,Poet,Archaeology Enthusiast,History Maniac.Also a prolific writer on varied topics from AI to Love.

Better Programming

Advice for programmers.

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