Innovator’s Toolbox: Excursion

I love puzzles. Picture this: I have been working on a 1500 piece puzzle for an hour and eventually get to a point where I am struggling to find a piece that fits. I walk away to grab a snack or read an article and when I come back, I find a bunch of pieces that fit right away. Why is this always the case?

When you have been working on a problem for a long period of time, your brain can get stuck in a rut. You have a hard time getting a new perspective, because your brain only sees so many possibilities at once. But if you let your mind wander, walk away and approach from a different angle, the problem looks like it has so many more possible solutions.

In creative problem-solving we use what we call “mental sorbets” or “excursions” to help groups approach a problem with a whole different set of ideas. Often these ideas take your mind to an absurd place, where constraints of the real world don’t hinder your thought process. The trick then is to walk back the idea to something that might be feasible. Below is list of a few excursions that we like to use, but don’t be constrained by this list! Come up with some of your own and share them with us.

  1. MAGAZINES:  Open up a magazine.  What do the headlines, articles, ads and pictures suggest to you in terms of ideas?  How could those ideas be used to solve the task?
  2. VACATION:  Close your eyes and take a vacation to your favorite place.  Imagine you are there–the sounds, smells, feelings.  What does this locale suggest to you in ideas?
  3. SUPER HERO:  Name your favorite super hero–Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Power Rangers, etc.  List each hero’s special powers.  First solve the task using these super powers, then turn the super power ideas into more realistic ideas.
  4. STINKY IDEA:  Take a really bad idea, something we would never do, and turn it into a good idea.
  5. THE SENSES:  Touch, taste, feel, smell, see.  Use the senses to describe the potential product.  Think about its attributes, and how they contribute to the function of the object.  What sensory changes could be made to improve it?

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