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Brainstorming Tricks That Actually Work

Jan 29, 2008
Brainstorming teaches us the importance of spontaneous, uninhibited thought. It makes us realize that even when we look at old, familiar problems we can see new solutions if we don't let preconceived judgment and prejudice rule our mind. It shows us how new and important ideas come to those who aren't obsessed with what can't be done.

One scientist, in talking about a genius who has had little formal training, told me, "He doesn't have a great deal to unlearn. Most of us with Ph.D. degrees know all the things that can't be done. He doesn't. He tries them, and they work."

One way to get new ideas is to use a check list. Make up your own list. Paste it on the bottom of a desk drawer, carry it in a notebook or your head, but use it.

Look around you, and you will see how other people have thought up, if not new ideas at least new and profitable variations by the use of such a list.

You'll be surprised how often a simple mental trick like reversing a problem can often solve it. Someone saw a couple of crossed knives and made a pair of scissors. Then the pair of scissors gave someone the idea for a pair of pliers.

Finding the right frame of reference and breaking out of the wrong one is a valuable step in creative thinking. For example, when the Pennsylvania Railroad had a problem getting their switching engines around their yards, they naturally thought up all sorts of switching engines - that ran on tracks. The problem was solved when someone broke out of that frame of reference and developed a switching engine which runs on great rubber wheels and can be run along tracks or, just as easily, across them.

To turn the problem upside down, inside out, or backward. Henry Ford didn't worry about how to get workmen to the parts needed in an auto-mobile, but how to get the parts to them. That was the basic idea of the assembly line.

A good brainstormer never takes the obvious for granted. He knows the best ideas seem obvious after they have been developed. Take an ordinary envelope.
Why lick the stamps? The embossed stamped envelope.
Why type return address? It's printed on.
Why type the address on the letter and the envelope as well?
The window envelope.
There is color coding for air mail.

Look at it to see the changes that creative thinking has made. One way to build an inventory of problems and solutions is carry an idea trap.

What's that? It's a pocket notebook you always carry with you so you can catch a fleeting idea on the wing - while you are stopped for a traffic light or riding the subway, eating lunch, waiting for a doctor's appointment, walking by a store window, or watching the World Series on television.

Some men even keep special idea traps in the bathroom, on their car dashboard, or have one by their bed that is equipped with a small battery lamp so ideas can be trapped efficiently in the dark of the night.

Make up an idea museum. It can be catalogues of parts, models, or even pictures. For a fashion designer it might be fashions of the past; for a car designer, models of old-time autos. An upholstering company might have all sorts of materials from canvas to leather that its idea men could look at, touch, test, feel, tug.

The idea man who thinks up uses is as important as the one who invents products themselves. Charles Bar bier, a French army officer, developed a system of night writing which made use of raised dots on paper. He designed it so his soldiers could read messages in the dark. It was a good idea, but the man who saw a new use for it changed the lives of thousands upon thousands of blind people. The man who saw that new use in 1829 was named Louis Braille.

Use the above suggestions and you will never be short of a good idea!
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