Ideas for Ideation

Many years ago I had the opportunity to teach a Creative Thinking course at a local university’s continuing education facility.  Naturally, I turned to the works of a guru in this field, Edward deBono, whose studies on lateral thinking were becoming a popular method used to create ideas for solving problems.  Since then, although some of deBono’s theories have been challenged, many people still benefit from his writings and techniques.

More recently, I’ve been doing research to develop a seminar at the Women’s Enterprise Centre on Ideation, or the development of new ideas for business start-up.  In order to design exercises to use in a workshop, I have been looking for a fresh approach that will encourage idea generation and marry results with market research to establish customer needs.

In my perusal of modern ideas on creativity and ideation, I came across ablog written by Michael Michalko that vindicated some of my own discoveries about creativity and ‘thinking outside the box’.  Michalko uses the example of the troughs and channels that warm water will make across a dish of Jello as an analogy to the way our brains develop patterns over the years.  Sometimes the ability to develop new ways of looking at things is defeated by the fact that our minds automatically fall into the patterns we’ve established over time.  Hence, the ‘‘if you always do what you’ve always done you always get what you always got” kind of rigid or narrow thinking, which inhibits us from finding innovative solutions.

In order to discover new connections that may help us solve problems in a new way, we need to change our thinking patterns. Michalko bases his approach on not concentrating on the specific elements of a problem or issue but considering the nature of the problem instead.  He refers to the Swiss inventor, de Mestral, who was looking to create a better alternative to the zipper as an example.  Rather than concentrating on the teeth of a zipper, or the pull, he thought rather about the purpose or essence of the zipper as a fastener.  By taking this mega view, and adding an unrelated element, de Mestral connected the idea of how things in nature, like burrs or seeds, fasten to each other. Through that change in his thinking pattern, de Mestral was able to ideate the concept of two pieces of material, one with ‘teeth’ and one with ‘loops’ that fastened perfectly but could unfasten easily.  Hence, Velcro was born.

I’m fascinated by the way the human mind can create and invent and believe all of us have the potential to do so.  Whether the goal is to start a business that answers a customer need, to find a solution to a business problem, or to develop a new product or a new market, our minds are our greatest and most astonishing tool.  Learning to use that tool in an optimal fashion is certainly worth the time.  I’m looking forward to more discoveries that we can weave into a practical curriculum to benefit the women we work with.  Stay tuned, more to come!

– Sandra Altner

image source: Brit + Co.