59 Ways To Get A Bright Idea

By Julie Rains on 4 February 2008 4 comments
Photo: bread man 017

Looking for a creativity boost? Here are 59 ways to get inspired and generate ideas that can help you gain a fresh perspective, solve a problem, present information, increase profits, and more --- TODAY.

Start with clearing your mind:
1) Take a walk, hike, or bicycle ride
2) Read a romance or mystery novel
3) Visit a playground and swing

swinging at sunset
4) Indulge yourself with something new: try a new flavor at Baskin-Robbins, a new pastry at the bakery, or a new tea at the tearoom
5) Go to a toy store

Reconsider your problem or opportunity:
6) Restate your problem until you get to its simplest form (example: “I need to money for a car” becomes “I need transportation” becomes “I need a way to get to work” or “I need a way to get groceries”) and then consider your options
7) Define, then challenge assumptions and consider new possibilities for solving problems (problem: “I want to share photos”; assumption: “I need to buy double photo prints in order to give photos to a friend” becomes “I can take digital images and email images to my friend” or “I can take digital images, upload them to a photo-sharing site, and invite my friend to view the photos”)
8) Reverse assumptions (“I can generate income on photos from my friends” perhaps by receiving royalty payments on images that my friends download and/or print) 
9) Consider what the problem looks like from your co-workers', shareholders', customers’, and/or vendors’ perspectives.
10) Reread the rules (does it really say you can’t do <insert your idea here> ?)

Think of ways to make more money for your company:
11) Sell a complementary service if you sell products only now
12) Sell a complementary product if you sell services only now
13) Transform byproducts (waste) into a product or service (my municipality is selling organic pellets from a wastewater treatment plant, which will generate $30,000 in annual sales but will save $800,000 in waste-disposal costs)

plant with rabbit waste as  fertilizer
14) Find a new market for an existing product or technology (GPS moves from military applications to car navigation and fitness tracking)
15) Join forces with a business partner for special projects
16) Simplify your pricing
17) Bundle products (generate a higher dollar amount per transaction, increase total sales)
18) Un-bundle products (sell products separately with lower dollar amount per transaction, generate higher profit margins)
19) Restrict supply to increase demand and produce higher profit margins
20) Increase supply to generate higher sales

Get someone else’s perspective for a specific problem or dilemma, ask for advice from a(n): 
21) Friend
22) Child
23) Customer
24) Vendor
25) Someone from a different culture
26) Person over 65 years old
27) Expert 
28) Stakeholder
29) Someone who (previously) knows or cares nothing about your problem

Discover new ways to
attract people to a business, civic club, professional association, etc.:

30) Listen to a new radio station
31) Visit a new website
32) Try a new restaurant
33) See a new movie

present information by going to a(n):
34) Art exhibit
35) Concert
36) Speaker program
37) Craft fair

cleverly designed purses on display at craft fair
38) Worship service (contemporary or traditional)
39) Museum with multimedia exhibits (such as the International Spy Museum)
40) Community event
41) Trade show

package products:
42) Make the product easier to ship, hold, or store
43) Create packaging that has a use after the product is opened (Lego Bionicles come with packaging that can store pieces or serve as a stand for completed sets)

make a product more effective, more versatile, less expensive, and/or more environmentally friendly: 
44) Add a feature(s) that makes the product easier to use or expands its capabilities
45) Identify new uses for existing products (See Myscha's posts on canning jars)
46) Eliminate a component
47) Substitute a part
48) Make it easier to replace parts (shoes with replaceable parts)
49) Change materials
50) Modify the product for a new application
51) Combine it with another product (phone+camera = camera phone)
52) Eliminate a function
53) Add functions that are related (electricity + blanket = electric blanket)
54) Add functions that are unrelated to original purpose (Smart Shirt invented by researchers at Georgia Tech enables detection of wearers' vital signs with applications for healthcare, fitness, and more)

Test new methods to spark ideas for becoming more efficient:
55) Eliminate a step and see if the result is the same
56) Do a process in reverse
57) Change the schedule (See Greg's discussion on the 28-hour day schedule in the forums)

58) Try out ideas you had already considered but were afraid to try
59) Reintroduce an old business model with your own twist (In the 80s, you could rent movie videos at the grocery store, then came free-standing video rental stores, then mail-order services; once again, you can find rental movies at the grocery store via redbox)

horse and buggy in the city

Ways of generating ideas were inspired by the book Thinkertoys and my experiences as an Odyssey of the Mind coach. Share your techniques for encouraging innovation.

Additional photo credits: POSITiv, adiything, greefus groinks, macinate
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Myscha Theriault's picture

I wish I had something more, but with such a thorough post, all I can say is . . . COOL!

Oh, snap! I do have something. I really like the restating your problem in simplest form and challenging assumptions part. I'm calling a friend right now who can use that exact advise.

Will Chen's picture

Those are some terrific ideas Julie.  I love this article!

Myscha, you win my gold star for the day for the use of "oh snap!"



Julie Rains's picture

Thanks y'all -- and hope this helps your friend Myscha. Thinkertoys discusses assumption-questioning and that is a big part of the Odyssey of the Mind process; it is interesting to see those ideas applied to real-life situations and how some ideas that we take for granted now were innovative at the time.

Myscha Theriault's picture

She logged on to read your piece while we were on the phone and we brainstormed for a while. She says thank you for giving her some strategies on a day she thought she had none.