Our innovator profiling method TIPS distinguishes people into three different styles of thinking preferences: Left-brain-directed “Figure thinkers” prefer a more analytical, quantitative, and sequentially structured style of thinking, while right-brain directed “Fantasy thinkers” enjoy “connecting the dots” when thinking creatively in more imaginative, qualitative and heuristic ways. (The third group of “Figure & Fantasy thinkers” feels equally at home on both sides of the brain).
Of course, Figure thinkers can also be involved in and contribute valuable ideas in creative ideation sessions. However, true to their cognitive predisposition, they enjoy developing ideas in more systematic, structured, and deductive ways (rather than engaging in the wild idea play and imagination trips that Fantasy thinkers prefer). So, if you’re a Figure thinker, then this article is definitely for you. Today, I will introduce three creativity techniques that are likely to cater to your preferred style of more “mechanistic” creative thinking.
1. List attributes related to your challenge
Attribute Listing is a classic creativity technique that is more analytical in nature. An attribute is a quality or feature regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of someone or something. As its name indicates, the technique asks you to list the key attributes that typically constitute the item your challenge is meant to create. Depending on the challenge that you’re working on (and the innovation type it relates to), you might list the essential parts, ingredients, and components of a product; steps of a process; elements of a service or promotional campaign; moments of a customer experience; and so on. Then, you look at the attributes, both individually and collectively. You challenge their validity. You explore alternative and better ways to accomplish their functions. You aim to improve the design of both the parts and the whole.
Let’s look at an example to understand better how the technique works. Suppose you’re working in the ice cream division of an international food company. You’ve been assigned to work as a member of an innovation team on an innovation project with the challenge: “How to create innovative ice cream concepts for 6-12-year-old kids?” (Note that this challenge is intentionally framed slightly widely to invite ideas that can touch upon product, packaging, and promotional campaigns).
To help your team get additional ideas after an initial round of Brainstorming, your innovation facilitator brings Attribute Listing into play as a more structured creativity tool. First, you’re asked to identify the attributes related to the target item. Here, a branded ice cream product for kids typically has the attributes:
- ice cream (which you might further distinguish into type, taste, and shape),
- add-on ingredients (such as nuts, sauce, cream, syrups, etc.),
- ice cream container (cone, stick, or tub),
- the branded packaging (paper wrapping, box, container, etc.), and
- a “gimmick” (like a cartoon character, toy, joke, riddle, etc.).
Finally, you take each attribute, one by one, and focus on how to change or improve it.
Let’s look at the ice cream container and challenge it with a number of questions to find new ideas:
- What value does this attribute add? It allows a consumer to consume the ice cream without making a mess on one’s hands or clothes.
- “Messy ice cream fun: Launch a container free ice cream that kids eat with their hands and mouths and that is served right before jumping under the shower or into a kids paddling pool.”
- How else can this be accomplished?
- “Put ice cream in a collapsible tube (like those used for toothpaste)”.
- How to improve this? How to achieve this in a better way?
- “Use many different shapes aside from a cone — such as a rectangular waffle box.”
- “Use natural materials such as coconut ice cream filled into a real coconut shell.”
- How can we simplify this?
- “Eliminate the ice cream cone and create small ice cream snack bars wrapped like a bonbon.”
2. Use relational words to play with attributes
Once you’ve listed the attributes of your challenge’s focus item, you can easily apply a second “mechanistic” creativity technique: Relational Words. How does this technique work? Select two attributes from the ones you listed. Then, insert relational words (e.g., above, before, behind, in, through, or under, among others) between the two attributes. Next, jot down any ideas triggered by the phrase. Be sure to try the relation both ways (e.g., A above B; B above A). Once you’ve gone through all possible relational words and combinations, repeat the process with two other attributes.
Here are a few sample combinations from applying this technique to our kids’ ice cream challenge:
- Ice cream in gimmick: “Co-use the toy (a ball, a helmet) as packaging for the ice cream. Kids first eat the ice cream and later can use the cleaned packaging for play.”
- Ice cream under gimmick: “Fill ice cream in the space under a frisbee (co-used as container). Kids can flip the frisbee to eat the ice cream first before later using the frisbee container for play.”
- Ice cream between container: “Create a Kids Pair & Share Ice Cream with two sticks (or two cones) for kids to share with a friend or sibling”
- Container between ice cream: “Put ice cream at the ends of a long stick that Mom can hold to feed her two kids with the ice cream.”
- Ice cream in add-on ingredients: “Make an espresso affogato-like ice cream drink for kids where a big scoop of vanilla ice cream floats in a hot strawberry sauce drink”
- Gimmick around ice cream: “Create a bracelet-like container that surrounds the ice cream and later can be used as a bracelet for warriors or princesses.”
3. Build an attribution-association-matrix to inspire more ideas
Another variant that plays on attributes you’ve listed combines central elements of three creativity techniques: Attribute Listing, Morphological Matrix, and Word Association Chain. Hence, I call this third “mechanistic” creativity technique the Attributes Association Matrix.
Here, you take each listed attribute and jot down any alternatives and associations that come to mind. Then, you look through all words recorded in the matrix and freely combine elements from different table cells with each other into new raw ideas for your challenge. The illustration below shows what such a matrix might look like for our ice cream challenge and features sample ideas that the matrix might trigger.
Conclusion: Play with listed attributes if you enjoy more structured modes of creativity
Truth be told, I don’t enjoy using these structured ideation tools that much myself, as they slow me down in my creativity firepower. (I profile as an extreme Ideator in TIPS and, as such, fire out ideas at a high frequency thanks to being naturally equipped with a vivid imagination and a knack for easily connecting the dots between concepts). Moreover, applying these mechanistic tools is more time-intensive and tends to yield fewer ideas per time invested compared to other creativity tools.
Still, I’ve included these techniques in our X-IDEA innovation toolbox. Why? As an innovation facilitator, I want to bring these mechanistic creativity tools into play if I suspect or —even better— know (thanks to TIPS-profiling all innovation workshop participants in advance) that many team members prefer a more analytical, quantitative, and structured type of thinking.
- Would you want to find out if you enjoy these rather “left-brain compatible” ideation tools? Then take the TIPS Online Test for $89 to determine if you’re more of a “mechanistic” Figure- or “heuristic” Fantasy-thinker.
- Would you like to learn more about X-IDEA and the creative power tools in our innovation toolbox? Then consider checking out our X-IDEA training courses.
- Contact us to tell us more about your planned innovation project and training initiatives for this year so that we can share ideas on how we might support you with our innovation know-how.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022. This article is earmarked to be co-published in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.