“We need to hear some new, wilder ideas about this problem.”


This chapter contains a variety of seed ideas. As you can see in Figure 11.1, I organized them into six groups to help you avoid using the same type of seed idea too often. Pick your seed idea group with the roll of a die. Choose a seed idea from that group that feels uncomfortable, then return to the section on idea synthesis. Stretch your seeds.

Don’t read through all of the seed ideas. There are enough for many problems. But when you get stuck in a rule rut, try one.


“The absurd is only too necessary on earth. The world stands on absurdities.” FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY

Any idea that is different from your old thinking can open new areas of solutions. Here are some seed ideas for moving you into new territory.

Random Nouns

Select one of the following nouns as your seed idea using the first three digits of your phone number or the roll of the dice.

For example, if you were looking to eliminate hunger and lived in San Francisco, your seed idea could be paperback novels. What could you do with a paperback novel to eliminate hunger? A tragic story of hunger could rally support in wealthy countries. An inspir- ing story could teach self-sufficiency in impoverished areas. These ideas are just a beginning. They can be expanded upon, breaking your pattern of thinking about the problem.

If you had a problem with a rebellious teenager and lived near Minneapolis, your seed idea could be combs. A characteristic of combs is that they straighten out tangled confusion. What issues could you straighten out with your teen, the school, or relatives? What ideas does this prompt?

Select your seed idea. Expand whatever unrelated thing you selected into some new ideas. The characteristics and metaphor idea-synthesis tools work well with nouns.

Ignorance Audits

Everyone has mental blind spots. Blind spots, or ignorance zones, are a kind of inverse rut. They are the things we don’t consider because we don’t understand them. Our ignorance zones are the places that we have not paid enough attention to in the past. You can increase the effectiveness of your problem statement by check- ing that it does not preclude ideas in your zone of ignorance.

Unfortunately, you will have a difficult time identifying your own ignorance zones. Your view of the world is centered around your sphere of competence. You are only really aware of your areas of partial ignorance. You don’t even know the big holes are there. To find your zones of ignorance, you will need the help of an ignorance auditor. Find someone whose view of the world is as different from yours as possible. Look for an intelligent person with a different age, career, gender, or culture. Explain your problem statement to your auditor. Then ask how your ignorance auditor would solve the problem. Listen attentively and record his or her insights. You will probably disagree with many of them, but you need to get this viewpoint in mind as you search for solutions.

If you were trying to convince your spouse and family to move to another city, you could conduct an ignorance audit with a teenager who had recently moved. Explore the problems and opportunities the move created. Ask your auditor how he would address the problem.

Record the auditor’s ideas in either the familiar or unfamiliar ring of a form like the one in Figure 11.3. If the thinking is familiar to you, record it in the inner ring. If the idea is unfamiliar, silly, or difficult to understand, record it in the outer ring. Outer ring ideas may represent whole areas of thinking that you are ignoring. Areas of ignorance are prime candidates for novel solutions. You haven’t even considered them in the past, so they aren’t part of your rut. Learn more about this new territory and determine if it could hold your solution.

Random Verbs

Use a verb as a seed idea. Using the chart in Figure 11.4, select a verb with dice or the last two digits of an identification number. Then employ an idea synthesis technique to create more ideas from it.

If you were trying to find time to exercise and rolled a nine, your verb would be withdraw. Application idea synthesis is especially useful with verbs. How can you withdraw and have more time for exercise? Perhaps by withdrawing from other commitments. Which commitments would you select? Or, if you were lobbying for a raise and rolled a seven, how could you cede and get your raise? Perhaps conceding a contested point would get negotiations moving again. Select a verb. Use it to solve your problem.

Solution Surfing

A television is an ideal source of random ideas. With the flick of a button, you flash from one stream of consciousness to another. It is perfect for zapping yourself out of your mental rut. But your televi- sion must be used correctly. You will need a note pad, a pen, and a television with the sound turned off.

Write the words person, place, thing, and action on your pad. Then close your eyes and begin flipping channels with your remote. Stop changing channels, open your eyes, and identify the first person you see on the screen. Record the name of the person or the type of person. Repeat the process for a place, a thing, and an action. You will have a random set of inputs. Use them to construct three or four novel solutions.

If your surfing collected a basketball player, a McDonald’s, a sports sedan, and an argument, how could they resolve a disagreement with a neighbor over a tree that overhangs your property? You could put your neighbor in a sedan, drive him to a basketball game, and then settle the argument afterward at McDonald’s. You could ask that the tree be trimmed until an NBA center could stand on a sedan and not bump the branches. You could even argue that if the tree wasn’t trimmed, you would be forced to sell your house to a basketball star who planned to convert it into a drive-through McDonald’s.

When your imagination is warmed up, design a viable new course of action for yourself from the items that you have written down. Break out of your rule rut!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *