1. Take a walk and look for something interesting. Force a connection between it and your problem. E.g., you see a jar of honey in a shop’s window. What connections can you make between the honey and your problem?
2. Open a dictionary, close your eyes, and randomly point to a word. Use the word in a sentence. Can you make any associations between the word or sentence and your problem.
3. How is an iceberg like an idea that might help you solve your problem?
4. Create an idea that is so dumb it will get you fired. Examine the dumb idea. Is there anything in the idea you can build on?
5. Ask a child.
6. Create a prayer asking for help with your problem.
7. What does the sky taste like?
8. What or who can you copy?
9. Read a different newspaper every day for a week. E.g., the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, the NY Times, the NY Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, and your hometown newspaper (e.g., Elmira Star Gazette).
10. List all the things that bug or bother you about the problem.
11. Doodle while thinking about the problem.
12. If you were the problem’s psychotherapist, what would the problem confide to you?
13. Take a bath instead of a shower.
14. What is the most bizarre idea you can come up with? Can you engineer the bizarre idea into something practical?
15. What can you adapt to help you solve the problem? What else is like your problem?
16. Take a different route to work every day for five days.
17. Write the problem on a slip of paper. Place it on your bed stand. Forget it. Go to sleep. When you wake, immediately write down everything and anything that comes to mind. Can you make any connections or associations with your problem?
18. Listen to a different radio station each day. FM. AM. NPR. Liberal talk show. Conservative talk show.
19. Ask the most creative person you know.
20. Compare your problem with electricity. What are the similarities? Differences? What are the parallels between the processes of electricity and problem solving?
21. What is it about the problem that you don’t yet understand?
22. Write down your problem in one sentence. Reduce it to one word. What other word might be used? Look for synonyms in a thesaurus. Choose one. What is the dictionary definition of the synonym? Does it give you a new way to look at the problem?
23. What is the essence of the problem? Look at subjects in other fields that have the same or similar essence. E.g., improve the can opener. The essence of a can opener is “opening.” How do things in other fields open? E.g., a seam on a peapod in nature opens when it is ripe. Can you make a metaphorical-analogical connection between this and a new way to open cans?
24. Go for a drive with all the windows open.
25. What is impossible to do today, but if it were possible, would change the nature of the problem forever?
26. How can a bee help you solve the problem?
27. Give yourself an idea quota of 20 ideas. Write the ideas on index cards. One idea per card.
28. Do not evaluate the ideas. Place them in two piles of 10 each. Randomly shuffle and combine the ideas in pile A with the ideas in B. Do the combinations yield any useful ideas?
29. What other ideas can you combine with yours?
30. Can you substitute something? Eliminate? Rearrange?
31. What is a unique feature of a submarine? Can you make any metaphorical-analogical connections between that and your problem?
32. A comet hits the earth and permanently wipes out everyone’s long-term memory but yours. Now how would you approach the problem?
33. Write down the assumptions you are making about the problem. Reverse the assumption and try to make the reversal into a practical idea. E.g., Henry Ford reversed “bringing people to the work,” to “bringing the work to the people” and invented the assembly line.
34. Draw an abstract symbol or a diagram that best represents the problem.
35. Think of a book title that best represents the problem. E.g., a two-word book title for a sales target could be Focused Desire; different level employees could be Balanced Confusion; seasonal sales cycles could be Connected Pauses. Then look in other fields for other examples of the title. E.g., Connected Pauses might evoke the image of a nine inning baseball game. E.g., when one team is batting, the other team examines the batters for weaknesses and makes defensive adjustments. They use the pause to examine their opponent for weaknesses. What connections can you make between pauses in baseball and seasonal sales?
36. Write a table of contents for the book about the problem.
37. Ask the person you like least for ideas.
38. What is the opposite of your idea? Can you make the opposite into a practical idea?
39. Imagine both opposites existing simultaneously. Ask yourself “What is paradoxical about the problem?” Think of other examples of the paradox. Use the examples to suggest new ideas.
40. Get comfortable in a chair. Hold a spoon in your right hand over a pan on the floor. Relax and doze. When you fall asleep you will drop the spoon into the pan which will wake you up. Write down all the thoughts and ideas that come to mind.
41. You meet a Martian. He does not understand any earth language. He does understand abstract symbols. Draw a description of the problem using abstract symbols and diagrams for the Martian so he can help you.
42. Think out loud. Verbalize your thinking out loud about the problem.
43 Try changing the nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns in your problem statement. For example, a problem might be “How to sell more bottles ?” Changing the verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs makes this into “How to bottle more sales?” Bottling sales now suggests looking for ways to close sales, instead of ways to sell more bottles.
44. How would Abraham Lincoln instruct you on how to approach the problem? What advice would he give?
45. Write the alphabet backwards.
46. Look at the ideas you’ve created. Are there any you can put to some other use? New ways to use as is? Other uses if modified? Other markets?
47. How would Picasso draw it?
48. Imagine you are at a nudist beach in Tahiti. How could talking with nudists help you with the problem?
49. Can you find the ideas you need in the clouds?
50. Eat spaghetti with chopsticks.
51 On a blank sheet of paper, write the word that best represents the problem and draw an oval around it. Freely associate on the word, allowing whatever ideas and impressions the word stimulates to come into your mind. Write the words on lines as branching from the oval. Any new insights?
52. Does the past offer a parallel problem?
53. What would you do if you had all the resources in the world (money, people, time, facilities, etc.) to solve this problem?
54. If you could have three wishes to help you with the problem, what would they be?
55. Wear purple underwear for inspiration
56. Write a letter about the problem to your subconscious mind. Describe it in detail. Ask your subconscious mind for ideas. Sign the letter and mail it to yourself or place it aside for three days. Let the problem incubate in your subconscious mind for three days. Open the letter and list any ideas that come to you.
57. How could your favorite high school teacher help you solve the problem?
58. Change the words. Making a few simple word changes may provide the stimuli for new viewpoints and ideas. The most productive word to change is usually the verb. E.g., “How to increase sales?” may become “How to renew sales?” “How to stretch sales?” “How to restore sales?” “How to plan sales?” “How to extend sales?” And so on.
59. Write the problem statement from your point of view. Now write the statement from the perspectives of at least two other people who are close to the problem. Finally, see if you can synthesize the perspectives into one.
60. What else is like the problem?
61. How would the problem be solved 100 years from now.
62. Make a collage. Browse magazines, newspapers or catalogs and cut out images that symbolize your challenge or choice. Move your pictures around, exploring different patterns and associations. Continue until they form a collage. Look at your collage and search for clues, insights and new ideas related to your challenge or choice.
63. Imagine you are a guest on Sixty Minutes on national television. You are asked to explain the problem and how you intend to approach and solve it. How would you explain it?
64. What one animal best symbolizes the problem? Why?
65. List ten keywords that come to mind while thinking about the problem. Then free associate from each word. Look for themes and repetitive patterns in your thoughts.
66. What can be added, made larger, or extended? Extra features? What can add extra value? Overstated? Exaggerated?
67. Create a dance that physically represents your problem. Then dance it.
68. Talk to a stranger about the problem.
69. What other idea could you incorporate from your past?
70. Remember a time when you were at your most creative. Put yourself in a creative frame of mind simply by imagining or remembering what it feels like to be creative.
71. Open a book of poems. Randomly select and read a poem. Relate the poem to your problem. What connections and associations can you make?
72. What associations can you make between your problem and an oil spill?
73. If your problem were a garden, what would be the weeds? How would you remove the weeds?
74. Change your daily routines. If you drink coffee, change to tea.
75. Write down your dreams and relate them to the problem.
76. Become the problem. Identify with an object or process and try to see the problem from the perspective of the object or process. Merge with the problem by asking: “How would I feel if I were……?” “What would it say to me if it were me?” “How would you feel if you were the idea you are developing?”
77. Draw the problem with your eyes closed.
78. Imagine you are the following roles: judge, bartender, investigative reporter, explorer, and botanist. From the perspective of each role, record your thoughts, ideas, lines of speculation, and so on that the role might provoke about the problem.
79. What ideas outside my field can I incorporate?
80. Fantasize a fantastical idea that will solve the problem.
81. Complete “How can I _____?” Then change the words five different ways. Each time you change the words your perspective will change.
82. Literally, sit outside the box. Place an empty box beside your chair while brainstorming to inspire “outside the box” thinking.
83. Learn to tolerate ambiguity. List as many alternative ideas and solutions as you can. Always ask “How else…? and What…else?,
84. Think about your failed ideas in the past. What have you learned from your failures? What did you discover that you didn’t know before? Any surprises? Is there something that can help you now?
85. Make connections between subjects in different domains. Banking + cars = drive-in banking. What connections can you make between your subject and the NFL?
86. Pick up something with your toes.
87. Browse through a bookstore looking for a solution.
88. Read something unrelated. Pick up books that are not related to the topic and skim through them quickly looking only for ideas that relate to or are parallel to your subject. E.g., if dealing with a problem about business growth, skim a book about how bees build colonies.
89. What is your favorite object (pen, photograph, ball, ring, toy, etc.)? Handle and play with the object while thinking about ideas and solutions. Make the object part of your creative thinking ritual.
90. Make metaphorical-analogical connections between your problem and something in nature. E.g., connections with preparing for a hurricane to preparing a sales presentation. What connections can you make between a jungle and your problem?
91. Change your sex. Imagine you are the opposite sex. You are out on a date with someone you like very much. How do you act, talk and behave? Now how do you perceive the problem? How would you discuss the problem with your date?
92. Always defer judgment when creating ideas. Evaluate them later.
93. Use mashed potatoes to make a sculpture of the problem.
94. Sit outside and count the stars.
95. Keep a container (shoe box, desk drawer, etc.) of ideas and idea starters. Collect interesting advertisements, quotes, designs, ideas, questions, cartoons, pictures, doodles, interesting words, and other intriguing items that might spark ideas by association. When you need ideas, randomly select an idea starter to see what associations you can make.
96. Walk through a grocery store and metaphorically connect what you see with the problem.
97. Eat a snow cone.
98. Think about your problem as a living creature. Draw a picture of it. E.g., the problem of selling more houses might appear as a helpless, strange-looking creature.
99. What color best represents the obstacles you have to overcome to solve the problem? Why?
100. Write a six word story that describes your perspective on the problem. E.,g, “At night all thoughts are gray.” ‘Successful when ignoring what happened before.” “Doing more for less is creativity.” “In and out of many ideas.” “Time to start over again, again.” “I am still not seeing everything.”
101. Still can’t find the answer? Buy a copy of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques by Michael Michalko.