How a monkey can help you find your best idea

Sometimes you just find yourself stuck. You hardly seem to get any ideas and the ones that pop into your head are obvious and boring. On moments like these, knowing how to use some ‘thinking techniques’ will save your day. One of the easiest thinking techniques is ‘The Random Word’. Surprisingly enough, this simple technique is also one of the most powerful techniques out there…

Whether you have to come up with a new product, a solution to a pressing concern or a new way to entertain your little niece, you can’t go wrong with a little bit of randomness.

Start your search for the right solution with an unrelated object. Where do you find these random starting points? Literally everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you pick a word, a picture or an object. As long as it is random it’s great. You will use the random stimulus as a stepping stone to an original idea.

STEP 1: Generate a random word
The first step when using the Random Word technique is ‘picking’ your chance starting point. The trick is not to have any influence on the outcome of your pick. Your stimulus must be entirely unpredictable and random. It is important to note that steering the outcome even a little bit can cause the technique to lose all of its power. Exactly the absence of a logical connection (at first sight) between the stimulus and the challenge, is what ensures originality in your thoughts. You’ll generate ideas you would normally not even consider.

There are numerous ways to generate a random starting point. One way to find a good stimulus, for example, is by using a dictionary. Grab the dictionary, open it on an arbitrary page and choose the first noun on that page.

‘Touchable’ words (objects) tend to work best. The more abstract a word is, the harder it is to use as a stepping stone. It is also a good idea to pick a word that is (seemingly) unrelated to the problem you’re trying to solve. It will lead to much more original and much more interesting ideas.

Other ways to find a random stimulus:

  • Open a magazine and use the first image you see as your arbitrary input.
  • Think of a random number. Walk to a bookshelf and pick up the book that corresponds with that number (for instance the fifth book in the row) Let the title of the book inspire your thinking session.
  • Turn on the television, flick through the channels until you find a commercial and use the subject of the commercial as your starting point (whether it’s a toothbrush, a shiny new car or some chocolate chip cookies).

Obviously, the ways of picking your random object are virtually endless. As long as you can’t know in advance what word or object you will get, you’re good.

STEP 2: Write down associations
What does the word remind you of? What are its characteristics? For instance, the word ‘dog’ could lead to associations like fur, collar, wagging, pet, wet nose, security, police, blind, bone, dog food, fleas etc.

Any of these associations can be used as a starting point to generate refreshing new ideas.

STEP 3: Generate as many ideas as possible
In this final and last step, you use the random object to generate new ideas. Don’t let the word limit you. Your ideas don’t have to contain the random word. Use parts of the object, a single feature, or something loosely related that pops into your head. The mere goal of the start-word is getting your brain started. Set it on an ‘illogical’ path towards your solution. Approach your challenge from a funny angle.

An interesting example of this technique at work is the invention of the follow-light.

Designers were looking for ideas for a new kind of lamp fitting. They decided to start their search with the word ‘monkey’. One of the designers imagined a monkey with a flashlight, running around in the house. Using this bizarre idea as a starting point, the team came up with an interesting new way of indoor lighting: track lighting (a track with spot-lights that gives the user the flexibility to move the light around).

In conclusion, when faced with a challenge that needs fresh ideas:
– pick a random noun
– make sure it’s unrelated to the problem
– write down as many associations as you can
– use the unrelated noun as stepping stone and come up with as many new ideas as possible.

Have you ever tried this technique or something similar? I would love to read about your experiences. Don’t be shy and share the ideas you came up with in the comment box below!

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Showing 2 comments
  • Joao Inacio

    Interesting take on ideas, but let me refrain to the starting point: the monkey. More specifically to George, the South African baboon that learned how to recycle in 3.42 minutes. Find the monkey within and embrace it – ideas will start flowing right after. Keep up gentlemen!

  • Hans Schut

    I used this technique a few times now and it works really well. The quality of the (workable) outcome is in my opinion based on the quantity of associations and thereby the ideas that will flow out of it… So keep’m coming!

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