The Transformers technique – how to use a verb to solve your problem

The Transformers technique helps you to quickly generate original approaches to tackle your problem. All you need is a verb.

Like many thinking techniques, the Transformers technique consists of three simple steps.

Step 1. Pick a random verb

Any verb will do, but some are more inspiring than others. Try to pick a verb that is unrelated to your challenge. For instance, if you are trying to solve an urgent problem on a construction site, steer clear of ‘obvious’ words like ‘build’, ‘dig’ or ‘construct’. Words like ‘flush’, ‘grow’ or ‘taste’ will lead to much more interesting solutions.

You can use a dictionary to find an appropriate verb, or you can use the list at the bottom of this article.

Step 2. Apply the verb to your situation

Force yourself to apply the verb to your situation. Generate as many ideas as possible, using the chosen verb as inspiration. Don’t be picky yet. Every idea is acceptable. Even crazy ones. Especially crazy ones. Ridiculous ideas can lead to interesting insights, so don’t judge and write down every thought that comes to mind.

Come up with ideas for several minutes, until you are stuck. Pick a new verb and repeat the process. Try a few different ones until you have a large number of ideas.

Step 3. Use the most promising ideas to construct a feasible solution

Look at all the ideas you generated. Which ones appeal to you? What is the concept behind these ideas? (how will these ideas improve the situation?) Can you use these rough ideas to generate feasible solutions?

Again, don’t exclude the more ‘wild’ ideas. Crazy ideas can be great starting points for the development of brilliant solutions. For some techniques to transform crazy ideas into feasible solutions, read our post on ‘How to turn crazy ideas into feasible solutions’.

Example; the noisy construction site

Imagine you are in charge of a large construction project. You are building a parking garage that will hugely improve the neighbourhood. The people living near the construction site, however, are not in the least happy with your presence. They ceaselessly complain about all the noise they have to endure. Especially the people living in the retirement home across the road (who are home all day) are furious. A neighbourhood committee threatens to step to the press. The whole country will know about the disturbance you cause. This won’t be great publicity for your company.

Something must be done. And quick.

You decide to give the Transformers technique a try.

1. Pick a verb.
You use the list below and pick, at random, the second word you see. ‘Flush’.

This sounds like a laughably unsuitable word. How can ‘Flush’ help you solve this escalating conflict with the neighbours? You decide to give it a try (if only for half an hour).

2. Apply the verb and generate ideas
You start generating ideas. For instance:

  1. We will ‘flush away’ the critics.
  2. We will flush away the things that cause the local residents the most irritation, showing them we are their friends.
  3. We continuously play a loud flushing sound, to drown out the noise of the construction site.
  4. We distract the neighbours by organising a big poker tournament and offer large cash prizes for every player who has a (straight) flush.
  5. We all flush our toilets using water. Why not use water pressure to drive our piles into the ground?

These ideas, of course, are still a bit rough.

Step 3. Transform these rough ideas into feasible actions
Use the thought behind the ideas to sharpen them into something a bit more feasible. In this example, this could lead to alternative ideas like these:

  1. Flushing away critics sounds a bit cruel (and unethical). The idea of removing the people who suffer the most, however, is promising. We could for instance team up with a travel agency and offer the local residents a lovely short holiday on the days we will make the most noise. A friendly gesture like this is a great way of generating good publicity (both for you and for the travel agency).
  2. Washing away other irritations is an interesting approach.
    a) The entire construction team can dedicate one hour at the end of every shift to cleaning the street and the gardens. Removing dog poo and trash is a charm offensive that shows the neighbourhood we take our responsibility. We won’t deny we are causing a bit of hindrance, but we are willing to make up for it.
    b) Of course, when it’s finished, the new parking garage will ‘flush’ the streets and get rid of parked cars. We have to clearly communicate to the residents how the hindrance in the short term will make the neighbourhood more liveable in the near future.
  3. Using sound to mask our noise is an interesting approach. We can play classical music in the retirement home in which the bass runs parallel with the steady noise of our foundation piles being driven into the ground. We can even remix the ‘golden classics’ from their youth. This way we offer the elderly beautiful music, while simultaneously masking our banging noises.
  4. A poker tournament is fun. But having a few construction workers visit the retirement home to play board games with the residents might be even more effective. Playing board games with the residents is a nice way of showing the neighbourhood we mean well. Also, it offers people the possibility of asking questions about the project.
  5. We replace the hammer with a reservoir of water and let the water crash down on the pile to reduce noise. (sounds illogical? Take a look at this new piling technique)

These are just some simple examples to show you how this technique works. I challenge you to try it out for yourself. What problems can you solve with a simple verb?

Would you like to know more about Creative Problem Solving?

Send me an email or give us a call (+31 10 3070 534). I’d be honoured to tell you more about our method and the many techniques you can use. Would you rather experience the power of creative problem solving first hand? Take a look at our workshop page and join us for a workshop at our office in Rotterdam. Of course, we can also come to you to help you out with an Incompany workshop.

See you soon!

Until then, as promised, a list of random verbs to practise with the Transformers technique:

Some verbs to get you started:
1. Freeze
2. Flush
3. Twist
4. Bend
5. Destroy
6. Enlarge
7. Burn
8. Stitch
9. Melt
10. Lift
11. Cool
12. Heat
13. Hide
14. Train
15. Paint
16. Listen
17. Copy
18. Weigh
19. Clean
20. Cut
21. Charge
22. Sell
23. Throw
24. Follow
25. Show

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