From the desk of Laura Duguid, Qualitative Researcher, Innovation Specialist
Recently I was asked to help design a workshop for aspiring idea generation facilitators. My charge was to devise an overview of divergent thinking techniques for use as a reference tool when designing ideation sessions.
The challenge gave me pause. How would I distill my 25+ years of ideation session design experience into a two-night class? Well, by starting with divergence of course! So, I let my mind wander, allowing incubation and inspiration to collaborate in my subconscious and…voila! A solution emerged. The scores of divergent processes I’ve played with, employed, customized and created over the years seemingly stem from five basic creative thinking strategies:
Free Association: A multi-purpose strategy useful for just about any ideation objective. It starts with posing a basic question, “What all comes to mind when you think of __________________,” then what the blank contains really gets creative juices flowing. Consider inserting rich language/descriptors, photography, art, music (actually play some!), texturally rich tactile items, scents, tastes/flavors, you name it! Ultimately, the group ends up with a wealth of divergent starting points to inspire new ideas. Popular free-association exercises include Creative Group Conversation, Mind Maps, and Lights Out.
Snowballing: This multi-purpose strategy encourages brainstorm participants to continually build on each other’s ideas again, and again, and again stimulating volume and therefore divergence. A technique called Brainwriting is one way to do it, but consider also things like teams filling-in two dozen empty blocks on a piece of easel paper or a relay race with prizes to generate the most ideas. Also, after any small group exercise, always group share and snowball further on the ideas.
Personification: Bringing to life a product, brand or service is a fantastic way to generate ideas for positioning, messaging, language, and descriptors. Portray your inanimate subject as super heroes; first, second, and/or third generation relatives; or famous people. For more tangible ideation objectives like new products, services, or line extensions, “person” work can also take the form of role playing (e.g. a target audience in various situations), and hypothetical product or services marriages and/or imagined offspring.
Force Fit: Taking what’s familiar and making it strange to get something new is a wonderfully radical way to get at new products, services, and line extension ideas. Popular force fit techniques include Random Word (pull a word at random from the dictionary and use it as a springboard to stimulate a new idea); Arthur Van Gundy’s Product Improvement Checklist (PICL); and Cross Categories.
Characterize & Change: Mostly applicable to product, service, and line extension work, simply characterize all the benefits or attributes of something and change one or more to get to new ideas. Or, use the more guided S.C.A.M.P.E.R. technique (take an existing idea/product/service and Substitute something, Change something, Maximize/Minimize something, Put it to other uses, Eliminate something, or Reverse it somehow). Another variation is the Negatives to Positives technique (list all the negatives of an idea/product/service then change them or replace them with something positive).
I encourage you to try a technique or two in your next brainstorming session, and experience first-hand the creative power of intentional divergence. Enjoy the ride!