Brainstorming and creativity methods

by Maximilian Lindner


Creativity is a very important matter in human history and evolution. Without it we would not have invented the wheel, the car or digital computing and global connectivity. It is the basis of developing new products and ways of thinking. Unfortunately creativity is not just a learnable skill which makes humans produce new ideas of desired quality and amount. Outstanding discoveries are precious goods that cannot be forced. They just happen in someone’s mind. However, there are methods that help to arouse one’s phantasy and lead to new solutions. We call them creativity techniques. The most famous one is brainstorming:

Brainstorming is, according to Alex Osborn, defined as ‚a conference technique by which a group attempts to find a solution for a specific problem by amassing all the ideas spontaneously by its members.’
In fact, brainstorming can also be performed by a single person: He or she has a piece of paper with one keyword and begins to write any thoughts around it that are logically connected. Educationalists call this ‘Clustering’. After that you draw circles around the words and link the ones that are related in any way. This leads to a ‘strcutural diagram’ with a hierachical order.
However, more common and probably more efficient is the initially mentioned technique:
A group tries to generate ideas for a special topic or problem. The members write down their thoughts by themselves or shout them out so that they will be collected by a facilitator. One important thing is that no idea is criticised or rejected in advance. This step is called the nurturant phase. The second step is to analyze those ideas, to link them logically and to sort out the ones that are nearly equal in meaning. A summary of the obtained results should follow.
The major advantages of brainstorming in groups are that the people involved get a better understanding of the subject, ideas of others can stimulate your own mind and lead to creative chain reactions.
Brainstorming for the topic “Ease of use of 3D input devices” might result in the following phrases and key words: Easy to learn, optical design, wireless technology, pointing speed, accuracy, discrete or continouus pointing, surface materials, controller resistance…. What you think that is unnecessary, inadequate or not connected to the topic can be left away. Valuable ideas are structured and augmented.

Other methods to be creative are reframing matrix, random input and provocation:
The Reframing Matrix technique is helpful if you are trying to find solutions for a problem from different viewpoints. One writes down the main question in a rectangle on a piece of paper. He examines the problem by creating other boxes in grid style around it and filling them with ideas that are results of different approaches. The most famous method is the 4 Ps Approach, relying on the Product, Planning, Potential and People’s perspective.
For example, if your online shop does not have success and the sales are running low, you can evaluate this problem with the 4 Ps Approach: The central question is: Why does my online shop not work properly? Product perspective-related issues would be: Are the prices too high? Does the product not meet the customers’ needs? Planning issues could be questions like: Should we change the advertising strategy? Do we target the right age group? Potential perspective: How can we raise sales? Not to forget the people who are supposed to buy the product: What do they think of it? Are they satisfied with the price and the comfort?

Another interesting technique is Random Input. If you are stuck inside a problem and you do not know how to proceed, you select a word out of a list by accident and maybe it can open your eyes for a completely new way of approaching the problem. The list can either be a dictionary or, more effectively, a collection of key words that have a logical connection to the problem.
Imagine, you are looking for some new features to add to your 3D action shooter computer game. You have implemented the standard weapons and player skins, but you lack a creative breakthrough. So you look in your big dictionary and find a random word, for example “parachute”. And hey – what about the opportunity to use one when you virtually fight in a mountain or skyscraper level?!

A rather unconventional experiment is Provocation. But it might help you to leave your standard patterns of thinking and lead you to new ideas that you would never have thought of otherwise. It just works as follows: Again, if you are stuck into a problem and you are trying to find a way out, you are confronted with a statement that is nonsense at first sight. But mostly, outstanding inventions have left the common ways of thinking. Sometimes a stupid idea turns out to be brilliant in the end.
To be aware of what a statement really says, just go through some of the following questions:
What are the consequences? What would be the benefits? What special circumstances could make it a sensible solution?
An example could be helpful here: Imagine, you are optimizing a web portal, maybe this is an online shop. And someone says: “If the site takes long to load, more people will show interest in its content.” The first time you hear it you might say: Bullshit. People dislike long loading times and they will avoid the page in the future. Normally this will be the case. But think of people who need a certain piece of information on your page: They will wait till the page has completely loaded and they will look at the page properly because they have nothing to do in the meantime. So if you have links, for example links to goods you are selling, that load quickly in the beginning, visitors of the page might click them more often because they are forced to wait and so have time to look around. Of couse, this will work only under certain conditions and would have to be verified in an experiment.

In conclusion, I hope I have shown some essential methods of creativity techniques and built a bridge to Human Computer Interaction by giving examples of how those methods could be used in terms of user interfaces and input devices. I think everyone has his own special ways to find new ideas, but these are standard methods. Mostly outstanding and valuable thoughts come to mind when you do not expect them, so when they do, do not forget to write them down.