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Be the Master of Your Ideas: Unconventional Ways to Thinking and Problem Solving

by Monica Ferro , 05.01.2012

This article is re-posted from User Centric’s blog.

How do you come up with new ideas or solutions? Do you stare at your computer screen hoping for an “a-ha!” moment right before your deadline? Perhaps it is time to explore new and fun ideas to bring out your creative side.

UX professional Mark Detweiler (Informatica) suggests creative techniques for user-centered design and emphasizes the importance of asking the right questions. But to get to the right question, we ultimately need to purge the bad ones. Detweiler’s suggestion pairs perfectly with a great quote by Linus Pauling, “The best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas –and then throw away the bad ones.” So let’s discuss ways to let ideas flow, regardless the size of your team.

Create and Destroy Ideas

Detweiler suggests keeping an idea log to make the brainstorming process more personal, sequential and ultimately more productive by off loading your memory and clearing the way for more strategic concepts.

You may also want to consider brainwriting: write down an idea without analyzing or much thinking, including questions related to the problem or creative challenge, followed by potential responses. Write until the responses stop coming out of your head. You can include thoughts, sketches, poems, questions, reminders, concerns and to-dos  on any piece of paper. What is the benefit at the end of the day? An absolute sense of a mind at ease; there are no thoughts or ideas caught in the back of your mind.

The key part of this approach is to step out of your comfort zone, of your typical approach, and try something new. What if you’re not an artist? Try sketching. Sketch alone on your idea log, on the back of that napkin or on a white board. You might think those lines mean nothing, but the thought or idea is now out of your mind, giving you more room for creative ideas.

Another great tool for those who need an extra push to step out of the comfort zone is the random exercises of creativity compiled from Wreck this Journal.  At times, destruction, with the only purpose of clearing your head, also allows us to focus on the moment and the material at hand. Destroying ideas is good for the kid in all of us.

Communicate with Yourself

Think bubbles...literally. We all know it is important to communicate ideas to the team, but let’s not forget about communicating them to ourselves first. In his book, Thinkertoys, Michale Michalko suggests using think bubbles or mind maps to help us “see, express and think about complex problems.” The process is personal, sometimes messy, and most likely confusing to others except you. So go ahead and get some butcher paper or a big post-it on that wall and start mapping your own thoughts and ideas. Group related ideas horizontally and use arrows or color to create a relationship. Michalko suggests putting the think bubbles away for a few days and then revisiting them, to add more and refocus on your challenge, flaring up the mind.

POWER Your Ideas

By now, you might have a good number of ideas related to your problem or project as well as some that are totally unrelated but potentially useful. Consider using free software like Evernote where you can archive, group and tag those wonderful ideas and recall them when needed for future projects.

And for those ideas that are potential solutions to a problem, consider using a productive thinking tool known as POWER. In his book, Think Better, Tim Hurson suggests using POWER as a tool that can “transform an embryonic idea into a robust solution.”

Take each idea and ask these questions:

• Positives: What is good about your idea? Why do you think it will succeed?
• Objections: What are this idea’s flaws? Why might it fail?
• What else: What else is this idea saying to you that has not been articulated yet?
• Enhancements: How can the positive aspects be improved, made even stronger?
• Remedies: How can you overcome any objections?

Hurson suggests iterating the POWER ideas several times, allowing for transformation and growth of that tiny idea into a refined solution. (Visit Google Books to view a sample of how to create a POWER grid.)

There are so many tools and approaches to get your ideas into motion, but the most important step is the desire to approach a problem or creative challenge with unconventional ways.

Suggested Reading and Tools:
• Thinkertoys: a handbook of creative-thinking techniques [Book] by Michael Michalko
• Think Better: An Innovator's Guide to Productive Thinking [Book] by Tim Hurson
• Beyond words: a guide to drawing out ideas [Book] by Milly R. Sonneman
• Wreck this journal: to create is to destroy [Book] by Keri Smith
• Thinkpak: a brainstorming card deck [Cards] by Michael Michalko
• Mental Notes [Cards] by Stephen P. Anderson
• Evernote: Remember Everything