Random Word Force Fit

This is part of my series on Disrupted Thinking. I’ll be posting a different approach every day. Today is all about forced connections.

Forced Connection tools work on the following principle. Logical thinking moves us in a predictable sequence of thoughts from our starting point to our answer. As we follow this logical train of thought, we quickly evaluate our options before choosing what we think is ‘the logical right answer’. Logical thinking is predictable, and leads us to predictable answers. With lateral thinking our goal is to follow unexpected, illogical paths and then make sense of them later. By forcing ourselves to make useful connections between seemingly unrelated subjects we can disrupt our usual line of logical thinking just enough to introduce some creative thought.

In today’s post I’ll look at the use of random words as a nice, simple and self contained technique you can use in about five minutes to generate some really quite creative ideas.

Random Words

The best way to understand this technique is to try it. In this example I started out with a challenge, ‘make cars more efficient’. Using my very best (albeit ill-informed) logical thinking I started thinking about the engine, and then the fuel and then maybe how we might get a more efficient engine if only the fuel was cleaner. Note: this is an example, I made it up, I know a staggeringly small amount about cars so please don’t comment on this actual line of thought…it is an illustration.

Next I tried introducing a random word. In this case Cowboy. I started thinking about the attributes of a cowboy and was drawn to the whole sunset showdown thing. Using this I then forced a connection with car efficiency and wondered about bringing two cars together, perhaps in a fight to the death. Maybe the winner would take the losers fuel or power. I then thought about two car families and wondered whether power transfer might be a useful consideration before recalling that (I think) there is an optimal level of power at which car engines do better. The final idea here is to enable power transfer between cars and using this as a technique to keep at least one car at an optimal power range. I stopped at this point having produced an idea which I thought had some potential to be developed. This ‘unexpected idea’ makes sense in hindsight but would have been really hard to think of through pure logical thought. After all, who said anything about having two cars.

I’ve tried this out myself a few times, and tried it out with groups. It’s a really simple tool which can get pretty good results in about 5 minutes. As with other ideation techniques, you need to make it clear that these tools are supposed to disrupt logical thought so we can get to the good stuff. The stuff we wouldn’t normally think of, but wish we had. When we get it right, these are the ideas we look at in hindsight and think ‘now why didn’t I think of that’.

Random Word Resources

Quite a bit has been written about this technique, from how to choose ‘good’ words through how to manage the technique in a group. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Brainstorming.co.uk give a great explanation of the tool with a strong focus on how to explore your random word’s attributes and features to help generate better ideas
  • The Thinking Club also have a nice post on the tool, as do Innovation Tools 
  • Creativity games have a fun random word generator, try dragging them around and clicking on them
  • De Bono Consulting give a brief but very clear explanation of the tool, which is extended to include random images and sounds as input as well
  • Read Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono, creator of this creative thinking technique (and the term Lateral Thinking)

If you want an example list of random words, here it is. Notice that I have included nouns which conjure up a strong image:

  • Bench, envelope, radio, landlord, candy, gutter, sword, motor, bag, chain, beer, shoe, egg, field, gun, wine, acid, parking meter, brick, lipstick, ring, ghost, peanut, olive, panda, salt, windsurfer, pilot, barbeque, arrow, turtle, hockey, tent, diaper, jam, silver, stomach, mouth, champagne, ashtray, x-ray, artist, storm, flamingo, truck, volcano, mud, ostrich, caviar, bubble, helmet, screwdriver, bath, dinner, key, rocket, coupon, Christmas, politician, chimney, herd, flute, subway, beer, dictionary, clouds, canister

In tomorrow’s post I’ll look at some other ways of using forced connections to come up with creative ideas. Let me know how you go with this one.


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