How to Create Heaps of Ideas in Just 3 Minutes

I bet you often thought how unfair it is that some people so easily practice their creativity and others continuously struggle to get new ideas.

Problem-solving is a skill like any other – you need to learn a few creative thinking techniques, and with some practice, you will soon be able to think of a solution whenever you need one. In this post, I will show you some of the basic creative thinking tools that will help you generate heaps of ideas in a very short time.

creative thinking techniques
photo: chris benson

Why Are We Not Creative?

Most people are not creative simply because they look for quick and easy answers. When faced with a problem our mind follows well established thinking patterns and generates ideas based upon our previous experience. This was very useful in prehistoric times when our ancestors had to make quick decisions to survive dangerous situations, but nowadays, old thinking patterns are precisely the thing that obstructs our creativity. So the first task for a creative thinker is to quit using shortcuts and look for alternative ways of doing things or thinking about things.

Discovering New Thinking Paths

By taking alternative thinking routes, you will find new and exciting things that will inspire you to create new ideas. These external impulses that trigger off our imagination are called Lateral Stimuli. They are referred to as ‘lateral’ because they are located aside from our conventional thinking and are usually invisible to those who like to take thinking shortcuts (please check out Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step by Edvard de Bono).

Some people are intuitive, have excellent perception and are curious so they easily notice things around them that stimulate their thinking. Their minds automatically encounter Lateral Stimuli in everything that surrounds them. But guess what, anybody can easily discover lateral stimuli if they learn how to look for them.

What Is a Lateral Stimulus?

Lateral Stimulus is a bit of information that originates outside of your usual thinking and has the power to trigger off your creativity by inspiring your mind to make new and original connections that result in new ideas. It can be a word, picture, tune, colour, feeling, memory… virtually anything that you can connect to the subject of your current thinking and use an association to create a new idea.

Do Not Let Your Thinking Get out of The Focus!

The subject of your thinking is also called the focus. Without the right focus your thinking might go astray, and the ideas that you create will be completely useless. To cut things short, the easiest way to think of the focus is to define your problem in the form of question starting with: How…? For example: How can we improve the design of our washing machine? How can I create more time to enjoy my favourite hobby? How should we motivate our team to practice harder for the following competition?

Creating Heaps of Ideas in Just 3 Minutes

Now that you have defined the Focus all you need is a Lateral Stimulus. As I said, a lateral stimulus can be basically anything that is around you: an object in your room, an image that you can Google on your web browser, a magazine headline… My favourite way of looking for a lateral stimulus is to pick up a random word from a book or a magazine.

Random Word Creative Thinking Tool

So here is how you do it.

1. Pick up a random word. It should not have any obvious connection with your Focus, and it should be a noun.
2. Use it as an inspiration to find the answer to a question on which you are focusing your thinking. Does that word bring about some new associations that can help you find the answer? Can it serve as a symbol or a metaphor for something else that can provide a solution you are trying to find?
3. Allow yourself three minutes, not a second more, to work with a particular random word/lateral stimulus. Write down all the ideas that come to your mind, including the craziest or the most absurd ones.
4. If you are not satisfied with the results of your first brainstorming session, pick another random word/lateral stimulus and repeat the process all over again.

Try to work fast and to think of as many ideas possible. Later you will have enough time to go through all the ideas and choose the best.

Here are some examples of my 3-minute brainstorming sessions.

How can I manage to have at least one healthy meal during the day?
Lateral stimulus – random word:
I will use a prepaid food delivery service. I will pay them in advance to deliver healthy meals to my office each day for one month.
I will start a communal garden with my neighbours or friends. We will plant fruits and vegetables on a small plot of land and we will work it together. Sharing our work will make it easy and entertaining, and once the garden has given us fruits, we will enjoy preparing healthy meals from the ingredients that we have produced.
I will suggest to my colleagues that each day one of us buys fresh fruit for everybody in the office.
I will invite my family/roommates to join me in preparing healthy meals. Each of us should choose one day in a week when he/she will cook a healthy dinner for the rest of us.

How can I motivate myself to start doing some exercise?
Lateral stimuli – random word:
Plot (area)
I will create an ’exercise plot’ in my apartment – small area with a yoga mat or an exercising machine and a big mirror (like in a gym) which will motivate me to exercise on a regular basis.
I will choose an inspirational surrounding for doing exercise: my home terrace, fancy gym, beautiful park for jogging …
I will designate well in advance an ‘area’ in my time table – a time slot for exercising only. I will forbid myself to do any other activity during that time. If I do not feel like exercising, I will have to stand in front of the mirror all the time, look myself in the eyes and hate myself for being such a lazy bone.

How to manage better my time at work?
Lateral stimuli – any object in my working room:
A loudspeaker (there is a Bluetooth speaker on my working desk)
Set series of alarms to remind me when it is time to end/switch my tasks.
I should regularly announce my plans by talking to my colleagues, or by writing emails and informing them that I will finish my tasks by the designated time. This way I will have greater responsibility to complete those tasks in time.
On the days when I am not satisfied with my time management and my performance, I will play to myself the song that I absolutely loathe, in a loop, for half an hour!

Now it’s your turn to think of new ideas!

If you like this and previous posts please share them with your creative friends or visit the NCY Podcast and listen to my shows about creativity.

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