Idea Triggers

Idea Triggers

When you are out of ideas, try of the following idea triggers to stimulate your imagination.


What technique will the leader in your field be using 20 years from now?

Explain your problem to someone who doesn’t know any of the technical jargon. Ask how he/she would solve the problem.

What is impossible to do in your industry, but if it were would change the nature of your industry forever?

How would you pursue the goals if you had unlimited resources: people and money?

Spend a couple of hours in the library leafing through journals that are distinctly peripheral to your project.

If there were a crisis and you had to complete your project within a week, what would you do?

Can you break down your major technical barrier into subsets? Which one now is the greatest barrier?

See how well you can describe the barriers to your challenges. Then get your team, first individually and then as a group, to prepare possible solutions.

Our brains need to be fed quality questions that challenge our neural network to really think. Try opening your next meeting with 5 – 10 minutes of question-storming. You can think of questions related to a specific topic, or simply reflect on all the things you would like to know about the universe.

Think of 10 ridiculous ways to solve the problem.

Are you managing your staff to take advantage of accidental events?

Wouldn’t it be useful if you provoked a bit more laughter in your group?

What question would you ask God if God were in the same room with you?

Go out of your way to find someone who isn’t an expert, but who would enjoy learning about your project. The burden will be on you to explain it an easily understandable manner.

How about spending an entire week not thinking about the problem?

Try thinking about the problem during times when you normally aren’t thinking about work.

Any good analogies to help you see the problem in a different way?

Ever consider thinking about your project in a different language?

Is it really necessary to see that your experiments are “correctly performed?”

Get someone else to look over your notebooks; perhaps a clue, you’ve missed, lies waiting.

Perhaps the idea that, at the time seemed silly, now has some value.

Anything useful in project disclosures of a decade ago?

Go out of your way to discuss the problem with someone who isn’t personally involved with its outcome.

Might an extension of the project deadline significantly increase the chance for success?

Are the ideas limited because you, or someone in your group, is “wedded” to a particular piece of equipment?

How about getting one more opinion on that strategy?

Is there someone in your group who may have a good idea, but isn’t offering it because he or she is concerned that it won’t be accepted.

Set up a meeting specifically to challenge the assumptions you consider basic to the problem.

What can you do to present your ideas more effectively?

Do you really listen to old ideas?

Concentrate on the problem just before you go to bed.

After a major decision is made, let it sit for a few days before you act on it– allowing people to mull it over and provide new input.

Are you willing to take the battering that frequently comes when you offer a great idea?

Write the problem down with the fewest number of words.

Play with turning the problem inside out.

When the problem seems complex, take a walk, relax and observe. Then outline the problem out loud, just before you go to bed.


Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.

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