Thinking Outside the Box How to Generate Innovative Ideas

In today’s business environment, where radical change is the norm rather than the exception, creative thinking is a must. Yet for many companies, getting innovative ideas from employees is like trying to squeeze orange juice from an apple. According to Vistage Speaker Bryan Mattimore, three basic conditions foster out-of-the-box thinking:

  • A safe environment. Employees must feel comfortable taking risks. They must know that their ideas will not be put down or ridiculed, no matter how off-base they may seem.
  • A sense of naivete’. Creativity is directly linked to the ability to discard any preconceived ideas about a given situation.
  • Techniques that stimulate association. Association is the basis for genius. Very rarely do creative ideas come from “out of the blue.” The vast majority occur as a direct result of associating two or more seemingly unrelated ideas.

Out-of-the-Box Thinking Techniques

Bryan recommends the following techniques to help stimulate creative thinking and get more out of your meetings and brainstorming sessions.

  • Brainwriting Identify the problem, then have each person write down an idea about the problem on a blank piece of paper and pass it to the person on his or her left.The neighbor reads the idea, either builds on it or triggers an entirely different idea, and passes the paper to the person on the left.When finished, collect the ideas and use them as the basis for a problem-solving discussion. (Pass the paper a maximum of four-to-six times to keep the number of ideas at a manageable level.)Variation #1: Post a number of blank flip charts around the room. Instead of passing a sheet of paper, people move from one flip chart to another, either building on the ideas already written or using them to trigger other ideas. This technique is particularly effective when the energy level is low because it gets people out of their seats and moving around.Variation #2: Create a large graffiti board and hang it on the wall in an area where employees congregate. Write a few ideas on the board to get things started and let people add ideas on their own. You can also paste pictures or graphics on the graffiti board. Called “brainboarding,” this technique works much like a visual suggestion box.Variation #3: Create a brainstorming forum or electronic bulletin board (BBS) on your computer network. Create a few topics (aka “threads”) to get things started and invite employees to add suggestions as time allows.
  • Worst Idea State the problem and ask people to come up with the worst possible solutions. Write down the ideas on a flip chart as people throw them out. Select the worst ideas and ask two questions:
  • Is there any merit at all in this seemingly awful idea?
  • Can we somehow reverse this terrible idea and make it into a good one?
  • Reframe the Question People often get stuck evaluating a problem because of how it is worded. Reframing the question can open people up to new ways of looking at the problem. Example:
  • Problem: How can we get our product to the customer?
  • Reframed problem: How can we get our customer to come to us?
  • Cut and Paste Random visuals are remarkably effective in stimulating out-of-the-box thinking.Keep a stock supply of pictures and visuals clipped from magazines. Pass these out to people randomly to see whether these images trigger any ideas related to the problem at hand.This technique is particularly effective at the end of a long session when people have seemingly run out of ideas.
  • Remember… Creativity is like throwing darts. Most of the time you miss, but if you keep trying, sooner or later you will hit the bull’s-eye.You never know when one of these techniques will work, but when they do, it can result in a top score for your business.

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