Two words

Several days ago I read a post speaking about the creativity as a metaphor of children brick games. It described the creativity as something which must be build little by little using your experience as a raw material.

It brought to my mind a creativity technique which actually works like a brick game, using words as pieces which combined with each others release unexpected results. The name of this technique is “two words”. You must choose several words linked to the challenge you are trying to solve, and looking for several combinations is the way to get ideas. Let’s see the process to be followed.

1) Set the challenge. Describe it in a short sentence. An example may be “reducing garbage produced by families”.

2) Summarize the challenge by trying to condense its meaning with a verb and a noun. In our example this is quite easy since it could be summed up as “reducing garbage”.

3) Look up for synonyms for each word. Our example leads to cut back, trim or bring down, and waste, junk or scrap.

4) Combine the words to create new meanings. The list of synonyms in our example leads to cut back waste, cut back junk, cut back scrap, trim waste, trim junk, trim scrap, bring down waste, bring down junk and bring down scrap.

5) Get inspiration from these combinations and focus on the initial challenge to find creative approaches and solutions.

Let’s try…

Cut back wastes. How about allocating dumping areas for each city as a ratio of the population. the more inhabitants, the more available terrain. If you exceed your garbage production, you must pay other cities for rental of their dumping area. This means higher taxes for the citizen who pollute more. It’s a way to involve citizenship in the garbage reduction, isnt’ it?

Another try…

Trim junk. Since a junk is a Chinese ship and hence a transport, why not thinking of reducing the garbage trucks? It may be the service (every other day instead of daily service)  or the size of the truck. The result is the same, if you contaminate two much, the service cannot remove all of the garbage which is produced. So, your street will be dirty unless you control the amount of wastes you generate.

Last try…

Bring scrap down. Down enough? Maybe under the earth? Why not forcing the people to use their backyard as dumping area? They should dig trenches and throw away their wastes. Once a year the soil would be removed by the community cleaning service and they could start again. If the garbage production is too much, the family would have a problem because it could not manage the amount of waste generated. And for people who do live in buildings, how about a communal place for all of the neighbors?

As you can see many imaginative combination arise. We are not judging the quality of the solutions -which is something belonging to a later stage- but the diversity of ideas that words combination can lead to. Try it because it’s a very simple method which provides surprising solutions.

Hail to the creativity!


Last week I was reviewing some information in order to get inspiration for this blog, and I found by chance an excellent summary of the SCAMPER technique. It was a link mentioned by the author Michael Michalko in a LinkedIn debate. Incidentally he is the one who wrote the book “Thinker Toys” where I first read the characteristics of this technique (this was my first creativity book as I have mentioned in some of my previous posts). So I cannot resist the temptation to talk a little bit about it.

SCAMPER is the acronym for Substitute, Combine, Add, Magnify, Put to other uses, Eliminate and Rearrange. It’s a powerful, complete, and suitable technique to use when we are interested in enhancing and developing new characteristics for an existing product or service, though its use has been traditionally more focused on products specifically. You can see the technique very much detailed in the link above, with a complete description of the questions to be stated for starting the creativity process.

Do you want to improve a shoe? How about substituting its standard sole by a gel sole which increases its comfort?

Do you want to enhance a restaurant experience? How about combining the meal service with live amusements in order to differentiate your offer?

Do you want to provide a better service as a taxi driver? How about adding 3G connectivity in the car for users to freely surf in the internet with their smart phones or tablets?

Do you want to improve the turnover of you ice creams shop? How about magnifying the size of the cones in order to offer extra giant ice creams?

Do you want to differentiate your coffee shop from other? How about putting your waiters to other uses by making them to explain the properties of the coffee when serving customers? They would cater and teach about the specific coffee to be drunk.

Do you want to better a car? How about eliminating the spare tire by using special self-repairing tires?

Do you want to innovate a MBA program? How about rearranging the standard course order and starting by an exam to identify students’ weakest areas and then prepare ad hoc lectures and case studies focusing on the test results?

That’s SCAMPER. A superb technique for thinking of infinite ways of improving current products or services.

Hail to the creativity!


Could you imagine how ancient Egyptians may increase your creativity? Yes, it’s possible by lateral thinking promotion. A typical resource to increase your capacity for ideas generation is by using unrelated stimuli, as you have been able to read in several previous posts of this blog.

The great author Michael Michalko was the first one whom I read explaining this fabulous technique, based on random connection of concepts within your mind, by means of using far fields apparently unconnected with the challenge you are trying to solve. Take a look at one of his posts where this concept of unrelated stimuli is extremely well explained. I love his writing skills!

Nice text by Mr. Michalko, isn’t it? Do you want to know how does the hieroglyphics technique work?

1) Select several images and place them together as simulating a short story in an unknown language (unless you are a reputed archaeologist specialized in ancient Egypt script 🙂 ). The challenge must be undertaken by getting inspired by these images. Let’s depict an example down here.

Nueva imagen (6)

2) Imagine what the story is about. Translate the graphical language into words. Be open, free associate and leave your imagination fly away. So, for instance, in the hieroglyphics above we may consider the following story:  “The robot is close to the burning table and king’s comfortable chair. They are all inside a ship sailing under strong winds conditions meanwhile the TV screen is playing a movie”. Does it sound crazy? Terrific! Then it’s good enough to go on :-).

3) Connect your story with your challenge. Your challenge must be observed through clean eyes in order to look for the hidden meaning of the story. Interpret what you see, what you think, what you feel. The connection is there and you just have to find out where it can be found. The ideas will get unveiled and your creativity will open new ways to overcome the challenge.

Let’s suppose your challenge is how to improve passenger’s experience in airports. According to our hieroglyphics story, for instance get concentrated on the robot, chair, burning table and TV. Why not thinking of plenty of robotized comfortable couches throughout the airport for free use by everybody? Another one…, how about a new meat supermarket service with a barbecue area where you can select your food, buy it and have it cooked by a chef? Last try…, what if we install a movie rental service for just 1$ a film where waiting passenger can see whichever film the choose on individual virtual reality glasses?

As you can see, your imagination is the only factor being required for taking advantage of the technique. The hieroglyphics themselves provide you the perfect scenario for ideas generation, and your role is just release your mind for free travelling through the story. The crazier the story is, the better. Are you ready?

Hail to the creativity!

Attribute Dependency Template

Product improvement can be systematically achieved by heuristic methods such as the “Morphological Analysis” by Zwicky or the “Lotus Blossom Technique” by Matsumura, among others. These methods propose an approach where several steps must be followed in a given sequence in order to get new ideas for existing products. A matrix is constructed and by developing specific interrelations between the matrix elements, new ideas are expected to be found.

However there is an specific method I have recently discovered which has really impressed me. Several days ago I thanked Henrik Ekman for allowing me to get more information about the PICL method (see the previous post) which I had been trying to find for long ago. This time I must thank Henrik again for mentioning to me an impressive book which describes this heuristic methodology, known as “Attribute Dependency Template”, together with other ones equally interesting: “Creativity in Product Innovation” by Dr. Jacob Goldenber and Professor David Mazursky.

Summing up, this technique deals with creating new functions for a product or a service by examining the product itself and not what the market allegedly demands. Voice of the customer is not rejected, but postponed. Product is firstly explored in order to guess what potential new characteristics may be implemented. It’s a new approach which ensures real innovations since customers are not even aware of them when ready to be released to the market. Marketing acts later when the proposal must be evaluated, but the new product prototype is firstly envisioned by using this method.

How does it work? Attributes of the product, both external and internal, must be listed. Internal means those one directly controlled by you when designing the product or service. External means the ones outside of your control and related with customer habits, environment, etc. Many of these attributes are not related normally. By analyzing the cross-relationships among them, new characteristics can be suggested if we force the dependency between two of them. Let’s us see an example…

Imagine you are the owner of a car wash.  Some internal attributes of your business may be the price of the service, how long the washing programs last, or the staff availability for the morning or afternoon service. Some external attributes may be the dirtiness of the vehicle, the weather, or the car length. If we analyze the relationship among attributes, some of them may be related (for instance, the washing program may be longer when the car is dirtier). However other attributes are not related a priori. These are the ones which can provide added value to the customer if we can implement a new link among them in our product or service. What happens if we link car length and price? Since the water consumption is the same for a given program, how about the longer the car, the cheaper the washing service? Fees would be calculated as an inverse proportion of the car length. And what happens if we link car length with the time the program lasts? Same price but longer time for longer cars? It would be a way to differentiate our service from others. And finally, what happens if we link price and weather? How about charging half of the price for a second service within 3 days if the car is washed and it rains? It would be a way to increase the cars coming back to your service again is short period of time. How about half the price if the raining chances for tomorrow are higher than 80%? A new and creative way to attract customers who want to gamble their money against weather forecast.

Isn’t is a fascinating approach? Unfortunately this post is too short to explain further details of this incredible method. Wanna learn more about its fundamentals? Take a look at the link below to see what it goes about. It’s a hypothetical analysis done about an iPad which perfectly describes the possibilities of the method.

Remember, first step to be creative is training your creativity. Either you use this or other method, they are all the beginning of your way. Repeat and repeat and for sure you will excel at it.

Hail to the creativity!

Brain Splitter

I guess most of you are aware of the scientific approach to creativity by the theory of brain hemispheres. Summing up, this theory states that our right brain hemisphere is specialized on intuitive and artistic thinking, whereas our left brain hemisphere deals with problems by using scientific and logical approaches. Though they are both complementary, pure creativity is generally attributed to the right hemisphere.

A very interesting technique by Arthur VanGundy is based on this particular behavior of our brains. Since both hemispheres do behave in a different way, and we humans are all usually prone to one of these behaviors, he takes advantage of this particularity and explores a new way to generate better ideas by making the team simulates how our brains work. It achieves a kind of switching off and on our left and right hemispheres according to our needs. Namely, aiming an optimization of the ideas generation quality.

Are you interested in knowing how it works? The steps to be followed are:

1) Make people identify which is their preferred behavior according to the left-right brain hemisphere theory. Some of them may consider more intuitive, some of them more analytical. Groups of about 4 or 5 people should be achieved. Each group must be integrated exclusively by either “right” or “left” hemisphere people. Those ones who do not easily identify their orientation, can help us to balance the amount of people in each group. Regardless the amount of groups which have been formed, they must be heterogeneous with people belonging only to one of the brain hemispheres categories.

2) Hand out the challenge to be solved and request each group to generate ideas. Left brain hemisphere groups are only authorized to explore practical and conventional ideas. Conversely right brain hemisphere groups are asked to generate illogical and unrealistic ideas purposely. They all must be recorded.

3) Now the groups are split, and new enhanced groups must be created by integrating some “right brainers” and some “left brainers”. By doing this we are simulating the behavior our our brain. All ideas are now shared and used by each group in order to look for new concepts based on them.

4) Groups randomly link all ideas. One right brain concept is selected together with one left brain concept. Combine them in order to raise brand new ideas which provide new insights to the challenge.

A simple example can be described by imagining we own a restaurant and our challenge is how to improve the business by looking for new services. We discuss the issue with our staff and our “left brainers” suggest include some new exotic dishes in our menu and set every Wednesday as discount day with reduced prices for the menu. How about our “right brainers”? Well, they suggest a live wrestling show in the middle of the restaurant from 9:00 pm to 12:00 pm and inviting a famous actor every Friday to dine with the customer who wins a special weekly lottery. After mixing the people back and sharing the conceptual ideas, some solutions to the challenge can be suggested.

– Why not preparing specialized menus for every Saturday afternoon which provides the real diet by countries in the world? Every week the menu would be different and a famous chef form other country may come to ensure the original and real tastes of the world (this idea mixes the concepts exotic and famous).

– Why not installing TVs in order to forecast special exotic events or weird thematic channels? (this idea mixes exotic and wrestling).

– Why not offering a free lottery ticket to all clients in order to offer a free dinner for two every 1st of each month? The lottery menu would be open and the winners may choose whatever he would like to eat with no cost. The more you go to the restaurant, the more chances you would have to win the lottery (this idea mixes the concepts reduced price and lottery).

As you can imagine, the options for ideas generation are unlimited. In human, both brain hemispheres combine in a perfect harmony. By this technique you can simulate this behavior very well. Don’t you think so?

Hail to the creativity!

Think Tank

Brainstorming is the classical ideas generation tool, but many experts are coincident about its limitations. A Brainstorming session is asymmetric as a result of the different skills of the people involved. Additionally, simultaneous talking and hearing takes place, which is not the best alley for ideas generation. Brainwriting is said to be an enhanced variant of Brainstorming since it allows the ideas are more efficiently used as seed for new ones and it additionally permits participants’ reflection when generating thoughts which lead to new ideas. An alternative to Brainwriting is the technique known as “Think Tank”. It is based on the same principle, though it’s a little more dynamic because forces everybody to move around the room and choose the order they focus on each challenge.

The link below depicts 7 different creativity tools and the last one -whose author calls “trigger brain-walking”- contains the essence of the “Think Tank” technique, though in this case is even more elaborate since each “thinking station” includes a different tool instead of working under a classical Brainwriting scheme.

So, how does “Think Tank work? It is very useful when several challenges are managed simultaneously.

1) People must work around a table, where each challenge is distributed. They randomly choose a seat and sit down.

2) Each participant focuses on the challenge and suggests ideas. All ideas must be freely generated as people do in a brainstorming session, although in this activity no idea sharing takes place by talking to each other. Ideas are recorded on sticky notes. When each one runs out of ideas, leaves all notes on a row close to the border of the table and leaves the seat to choose a new one. Some people may finish before and some others later (depending on their creativity for a given challenge, the difficulty of the challenge, etc) but everybody can move freely without restriction and without having to wait for others to finish.

3) When moving, each person can arrive to a new challenge (where nobody was before) or by contrast sit on a place where somebody has already recorded  several ideas. In the former case, the same process as in point 2) is applied. In the latter case, the sharing of ideas takes place. Before answering the challenge and providing new proposal to solve it, the previous ideas must be checked and read. The aim of this checking is to get inspiration from the previous people who worked with that given challenge, in order to produce evolved ideas with new subtle differences (or evident ones, why not!).

4) When finishing with the idea generation in the current seat, the sticky notes must be placed on a higher row close to the previous ones. It’s a way to separate the initial evolution from the next waves.

5) The process is repeated until several rows have been generated for each challenge (normally 3 or 4 is enough and a suggested time of 40-45 minutes is a good goal).

Try it, it’s simple and effective. An additional advantage is that it requires little facilitation skills if compared with Brainstorming, so its performance is quite good with little effort by the one leading the session.

Hail to the creativity!