Using Random Words to Disrupt your Business Model

Lateral thinking is all about movement, and the deliberate movement of logical thinking to enable creative thinking. When it works, we can look backwards from our creative solution and make sense of the path we took to get there. But looking forwards “we just can’t get there from here”.

De Bono uses a number of techniques to achieve lateral thinking. One such method is random entry, the concept of using a different, randomly selected starting point as part of the creative problem solving process. You can do this with a well selected pool of words to be drawn on at random:

  • 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

Once a word has been randomly selected, our job is to force connections between the word and our challenge. For the word “envelope” this might include its ability to open and close, to hold something else, its stickiness, its use of a transport network, or the fact that it usually needs a stamp. Here’s an example:

  • Challenge: how to disrupt the rented office space marketplace
  • Word: envelope
  • New starting point ideas: what if office space had a stamp of approval? or could be sent somewhere else? or could include bubble wrap for delicate contents?
  • Ideas continuing from our new starting points: taking hot desks a step further we could virtually transport our office as we travelled, allowing incoming tenants to move into our now vacated space whilst we moved into the new office space. This could form a network of offices for businesses on the move with too few staff to simultaneously occupy multiple offices.

Using random words with business model innovation

Random entry is an easy to use lateral thinking tool which can be applied to any form of creative problem solving. Why not apply the tool towards innovating the business model? Starting with a high level business model canvas we could use random words to stimulate lateral thinking across each (or all) of the 9 building blocks, using trigger questions to frame the challenges in each case.

For example, in the Key Partners building block we could ask “Who else could we partner with, and what for?”. Using the word envelope we might start to think about awarding partners different certification levels (stamps) for preferential treatment, or we might form temporary partnerships that stay ‘stuck shut’ only until we have reached a given destination.


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