Thursday, February 19, 2009

Getting beyond the obvious

Try the following experiment. For each of these words, write down the first word that comes to mind.


Now take a look at your list. Let me use my powers of intuition and guess that your list will look something like this:


That is because the patterns you have become accustomed to have build strong associations with those words. The associations are obvious. Obvious patterns come to us quickly, and most people come to the same answers.

Let me share a different set of word associations to that original list:

Death Star

Were any of these words on your list? Why not?

Here was my thinking process that created this list... I went beyond the obvious to hunt for a unique association. In each case, this required looking at the original word and thinking about different aspects of that word.

From table to frog: Things with legs

From cat to sweater: Things related to yarn

From shoe to pin: Things related to bowling

From left to veil: Things related to weddings

From black to Death Star: Things related to Darth Vader

As you can see, unique associations usually aren’t the first things that come to mind. They generally become clear only after you have the additional information about the lens to think about the word. Even then, I'd imagine that you wouldn't have arrived at the same unique associations that I did.

Why is this important? Well, when we are trying to come up with new ideas, we should keep this distinction in mind. When we go with our initial ideas, we are usually going with the obvious. Innovation is unlikely when coming from that point because it is likely where everyone else goes too. When we spend some time looking at the problem or solutions from different angles, we're more likely to arrive someplace unique.

Take the time to brainstorm. It will get you beyond the obvious.