Ideation Techniques for Generating New Ideas (Part 2 of 3)


imageIn the book THINKERTOYS, Michael Michalko presents sets of techniques for generating ideas.

In my previous article, I covered Ideation Techniques for Generating New Ideas (Part 1 of 3).

In this article, I’ll cover Group B.

The Group B linear techniques arrange information in a way so that you move in determined steps toward a new idea.

Technique #1: Tug-Of-War (Force Field Analysis)

This technique for generating new ideas involves graphing a challenge’s positive and negative forces and then maximize the positives and minimize the negatives.

Here are the steps in the process according to Michalko:

  1. Write the challenge you are trying to solve.
  2. Describe the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario; the bets that can happen and the worst.
  3. List the conditions of the situation.  Conditions are anything that modifies or restricts the nature or existence of your subjects.  They are whatever requirements you perceive to be essential to solving a particular challenge.
  4. Note the “tug-of-war.” As you list the conditions, you wil find the forces pushing you to the best case and those pulling you toward catastrophe.  Pit each condition against the opposite on the continuum by specifying the push and pull powers.

Technique #2: Idea Box (Morphological analysis)

This techniques shows you how to generate new ideas by identifying and boxing the parameters of a challenge to quickly produce thousands of new ideas.

Here are the steps in the process according to Michalko:

  1. Identify your challenge.
  2. Select the parameters of your challenge.  To determine whether a parameter is important enough to add, ask yourself, ‘Would the challenge still exist without the parameter I’m considering adding to the box?”
  3. List variations.  Below each parameter, list as many variations as you wish for that parameter.  The number of parameters and variations will determine the box’s complexity.  Generally, it is easier to find new ideas within a simple framework than a complex one.  For instance, a box with ten parameters, each of which has ten variations, produces 10 billion potential combinations.
  4. Try different combinations.  When the box is finished, make random runs through the parameters and variations selecting one or more from each column and then combining them into entirely new forms.  You can example all of the combinations in the box to see how they affect your challenge.  If you are working with a b xo that contains ten or more parameters, you may find it helpful to randomly examine the entire box and then gradually restrict yourself to portions that appear particularly faithful.  It’s like hunting for stars in a box.

Technique #3 Idea Grid (FCB grid)

This technique is a way to find new ideas and creative strategies using a grid to organize complex masses of information.

Here are the steps in the process according to Michalko:

  1. Create a grid.  High involvement represents perceptions of expensive products such as cars and boats.  Low involvement represents less costly products such as ordinary household products.  Think represents verbal, numerical, analytic, cognitive products for which the consumer desired information and data.  For example, automobiles, boats, computers, cameras, and so on.  Feel represents products that appeal to a consumer’s emotional needs and desires, such as travel, beauty, cosmetics, and so on.
  2. You place your product on the grid by researching both the product and its potential market.  For instance, life insurance would fall in the High/Left quadrant, insecticide in the Low/Left, and costume jewelry in the Low/Right quadrant.
  3. Once the product is placed, you have a powerful basis for generating ideas.  You can read and understand the grid immediately because the visual language used in placement is intuitively understood.  Use the grid to identify holes in the market, predict the demand for new product ideas, formulate an advertising strategy, reposition your business or product.

Technique #4 Lotus Blossom (Diagramming)

This idea technique is a way to find new ideas by diagraming obstacles and then using them to reach your goal.

Here are the steps in the process according to Michalko:

  1. Draw a Lotus Blossom diagram and write the problem or idea in the center of the diagram.
  2. Write the significant component or themes of your subject in the circles surrounding the center circle, labeled A to H.
  3. Use the ideas written in the circles as the central themes for the surrounding lotus blossom petals or boxes.  Thus the idea or application you wrote in circle A would become the central theme for the lower middle box A.  It now becomes the basis for generating eight new idea or applications.
  4. Continue the process until the lotus blossom diagram is completed.

Technique #5 Phoenix (Questions)

This technique is a way to use a checklist of problem-solving questions – originated by the CIA – to guide your thinking.

Here are the steps in the process according to Michalko:

  1. Write your challenge.  Isolate the challenge you want to think about and commit yourself to an answer, if not the answer, by a certain date.
  2. Ask questions  use the Phoenix checklist to dissect the challenge into as many different ways as you can.
  3. Record your answers.  Information requests, solutions, and ideas for evaluation and analysis.

Technique #6 The Great Transpacific Airline and Storm Door Company (Matrix)

This technique is a way to find new ideas by creating a keyword index and mix and match the key words in a matrix to produce new ideas.

Here are the steps in the process according to Michalko:

  1. Ask “What is our business?’ and “What should our business be?”  These questions focus your attention on where to look for new ideas.
  2. Define and organize your business according to products or services, markets, functions, and technologies.  For instance, the key descriptors for a business book publisher would be:  Products or services: Books.  Markets: Books for the business professional.  Functions:  Books that provide business information.  Technologies: Books based on the latest printing technologies.
  3. Under each variables, list the key words for the business: Key words describe the products or services, markets, functions, and technologies in your industry.
  4. Mix and match your products, markets, functions, services, and technologies in various ways to explore new ideas.

Technique #7 Future Fruit (Future Scenarios)

This technique is a way to find new ideas by projecting a future scenario in order to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

Here are the steps in the process according to Michalko:

  1. Identify a particular problem in your business.
  2. State a particular decision that has to be made.
  3. Identify the force (economic, technological, product lines, competition, and so on) that have an impact on the decision.
  4. Build four or five future scenarios based on the principal forces that will give you as many different and plausible possibilities as a pinball in play.
  5. Develop the scenarios into stories or narratives by varying the forces that impact the decision.  Change the forces (interest rates escalate, a key performer quits, need for your product or service disappears, etc.) and combine them into different patterns to describe the possible consequences of your decision over the next five years.
  6. Search for business opportunities within each scenario.  Then explore the links between opportunities across the rang of your scenarios an d actively search for new ideas.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • My favorite example is the Tug-of-War. It’s about reframing and changing the position of negative forces to neutralize thier impact and empower you.
  • Fitting your challenges into an Idea Box forces you to find new meanings and connections.
  • I like the Idea Grid’s ability to compress information. I find compressed information is easier to quickly see new patterns and possibilities.
  • I had a hard time following how to do the Lotus Blossom, but once I figured it out, I like how it helps you track the whole systems of interacting elements.
  • I like the lightweight and question-driven approach to Phoenix.

Additional Resources

Michael Michalko’s example of the Lotus Blossom Approach

CreativeThinking.Net (Michael Michalko’s site)

Scenario Thinking 2.0 – use this site to find resources on thinking up and planning for scenarios.

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