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Another interesting way to stimulate your imagination is to use historical events or people selected randomly as stimuli.  Get a website that contains a dictionary of events or the birth and death of a person. Try any date (today’s date, birth date, birthday of a pet, etc.), select an entry because it is bizarre, exciting, or makes you think of something. Imagine yourself present at the event, or being that person. How would they look at your problem? What would they do about it? What different perspectives would you get from being at the event or from the sort of activity? What are the parallels in history between that event and today?

The mix of people and events gives a rich source of inspiration. Just as a random picture gives much more than a random word, an event with all its associations will normally produce more than a single person. Try conceptually blending them to generate interesting effects. How would Charlie Chaplin sell a proposal to a board of directors?

One gym owner randomly went back to October 25th 1881 and discovered that was the birth date of Pablo Picasso, which got him to wondering how Picasso would market his gym. This inspired his brainstorm. He hired a free lance caricature artist to sit in front of his gym with a sign offering “free caricatures in five minutes.” The artist draws a caricature of the person in a well developed body with his gym prominently in the background. The person also gets a brochure and business card. His business increased substantially almost overnight.

Look at the two tables below. The tables appear to be decidedly different. One is narrow, the other wide. Yet, believe it or not, the tables are identical.

                A ……………………………………………………………………………………B

You can prove this to yourself by cutting out the top of table A and, turning it 75% to the right and placing in on the top of table B, or by measuring and comparing the lengths and widths. Here you take a situation that seems impossible and, by tinkering, discover that the impossibility is merely an illusion created by the artist’s perspective. This is one of the values of playing with absurd ideas. By tinkering with them, you begin to see things that you normally would miss.

In the following thought experiment there are unusual combinations of objects. This is a workshop technique where participants randomly write nouns on small slips of paper. Then they are randomly combined into unusual objects. Combining apparently contradictory or impossible objects forces participants to stretch and bend their concepts to meet the constraints of the task. The objects below are from a past workshop.


Try to imagine each object and draw a picture of it. See if you can imaginer it into something feasible. For example, a piece of furniture that is also a fruit could be designed as a giant pineapple carved into a chair.

A vehicle that is also kind of fish.

An aquarium that is also a toilet.

A parking meter that is a kind of person.

A bird that is also kind of kitchen utensil.

A park bench that is a kind of person.

A cooking stove that is also kind of bicycle.

A lampshade that is kind of book.

Below are some of the ideas this experiment inspired.

  • A vehicle that is kind of fish = A dolphin pulled boat
  • A cooking stove that is also kind of bicycle = The tubes of a bicycle frame were filled with steam that could be released to do the cooking. The pedaling is the energy source for the cooking.
  • A parking meter that is also a kind of person = Manufacture a parking meter with infrared sensors and lithium-powered computer chips to “see” parking spaces much like a person “sees.”  When a car leaves, the remaining time on the meter is erased.
  • An aquarium that is also a toilet = A toilet that looks like an aquarium. An engineer took this idea and designed a toilet with a glass aquarium tank. The mechanics of the toilet are hidden behind a wall with the front a glass aquarium with tiny fishes swimming around. A restaurant bought hi toilet as a gimmick and their business increased as customers told their Hfriends about the toilet. 

How about a bench that is a kind of person? Visitors to the public square in Cambridge, England see six benches and six bins. The park superintendent hired an inventor to equip the benches and bins with sensors that allow them to move and flock around the square. When no one is sitting on a bench, the bench will move to another position in a new space to make itself more attractive for visitors. Often the benches will arrange themselves into different patterns.

The benches drift slowly around the square no faster than a strolling human being. Sensors stop them when they get to close to an object. Sometimes when most of the benches are sat on. they will burst into song with the bins joining them with soprano voices.

When it rains. the benches move to shadier, drier places while the bins shiver and become more solitary.


Michael Michalko

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