Facilitating groups through brainstorming and idea generation can sometimes feel like trudging through mud — particularly towards the end of a day or with a difficult topic. You can energize a group’s creative thinking by taking them away from the topic for a short period of time to a new arena that is parallel or loosely connected, and then returning to your topic using that new thinking. This is a lateral thinking technique called “associations” that can be used with any group. Let me give you an example.
- Let’s say you’re facilitating a team through an idea generation session for energy efficient flash lights. You’ve been in ideation for hours and there simply are no more ideas flowing. Ask the group to forget about flashlights for a minute and answer the following question: “Name some things that are energy efficient.” Record the responses so the group can see them. You may get responses like: solar powered watches, small cars, electric vehicles, screen savers, long-distance runners, etc.
- Next, using the list of energy efficient items just generated, ask the group: “What are the attributes of things that are ‘energy efficient?'” Record the responses so the group can see them. Responses might include: electric, solar powered, turn themselves off, store energy, etc.
- Finally, ask group members to take a few quiet minutes to come up with ideas for energy efficient flashlights using the list of attributes just generated. You might get ideas such as: a flashlight that turns itself off after a certain period of time, flashlight that stores solar energy to operate when it’s dark, flashlight that stores electric energy, flashlight powered by human contact, etc.
The best ideas in this exercise often come when group members build on each others ideas. A wacky idea often becomes a very innovative idea as groups work together to build them.
Here are some other related lateral thinking exercises you might try:
- Get Fired Ideas: Ask the group “what idea could you go back to your CEO with that would definitely get you fired.” Make a list of these “get fired ideas” and then one by one turn them into ideas that would get you promoted.
- Worlds: Give each team member a “world” to go to, such as: Space, rock-n-roll, pre-school, high-tech, low-tech, nature, Hollywood, etc. Ask each team member to go to his or her world and find example of things that have a key attribute of your innovation focus (for example, portability) and write them down. Next, using the association technique, make a list that answers the question “why is that item in your world portable” (fill-in the attribute you selected); build new ideas for your innovation focus from the list of attributes.
- Role Play: Give each group member the name of a famous person. Tell them to assume they are that person. Ask them to think about what’s important to that person, what their living environment is like, what are they thinking about? Next, ask them to invent a new product within your innovation project scope that works for that person.
The key to successful creativity with lateral thinking techniques is to move people away from concentrating on the specific opportunity area you are brainstorming on to another place. Let them incubate in the other place for a while and then force fit that new thinking back to the innovation opportunity.
Sometimes it takes a change in focus to open up creativity in the brain. Facilitating your group away from your primary focus to another area provides stimulus for their creativity and can be a productive, energetic and fun way to make significant progress during innovation sessions.
— Cindy Diamond, Diamond Marketing Solutions & Ignite