A Simple Way to Get Ideas


A major characteristic of creative thinking is the ability to generate a host of associations and connections between dissimilar subjects. This is difficult for the average person to do so voluntarily because we have not been taught to process information this way. When we use our imagination to develop new ideas, those ideas are heavily structured in predictable ways by the properties of existing categories and concepts that are totally related. But without provision for variations, ideas eventually grow stagnate and lost their adaptive advantages. In the end, if you always think the way you always thought, you’ll always get what you always got.

Think for a moment about a pine cone. What relationship does a pine cone have with the processes of reading and writing? In France, 1818, a nine-year old boy blinded himself accidentally with a hole puncher while helping his father make horse harnesses.  A few years later the boy was sitting in the yard thinking about his inability to read and write when a friend handed him a pine cone. He ran his fingers over the cone and noted the tiny differences between the scales. He conceptually blended the feel of different pine cone scales with reading and writing and realized he could create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so the blind could feel and read what was written with it. By creating a world where the blind could read by feeling Louis Braille opened up a whole new world for the blind. 

Braille cross-fertilized a pine cone with the process of reading to revolutionize the world for the blind. One way to stimulate your imagination when looking to cross-fertilize concepts for ideas is to casually skim different magazines and books.  The guidelines are: 

  • Select the topic of your challenge. For example, business growth.
  • Pick up a magazine or two on totally unrelated topics, either nonfiction or fiction.
  • Skim the magazine quickly looking only for ideas that relate to or are parallel to your subject. For example, you might find some incredible innovative ideas about business growth by skimming a nature magazine that has an article about how bees build colonies.

The CEO of a greeting card company wanted to create an innovative Christmas card. One day she skimmed a magazine article book about the pollution in the Pacific ocean. A discussion about biodegradables in the book sparked her idea.

She researched biodegradables and then made a connection between biodegradables and paper made plantable eco-paper possible. Her concept for innovative Christmas cards was to print them on biodegradable paper and embedded with flower tree seeds. When the paper is planted outside in soil or inside in a pot of soil the seeds grow and the paper composts away. All that is left behind are flowers and no waste. Biodegradable Christmas cards cards make a lasting impression, each card is a gift unto itself that can be enjoyed throughout the upcoming year.                                                                                                                      

The company then expanded its product lines to include biodegradable greeting cards for all occasions and biodegradable confetti for weddings and other celebrations.

For more creative thinking techniques read Michael Michalko’s


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