Have you ever experienced having no idea come to your mind when you need them? Such moments can be frustrating, especially if you have spent quite a lot of time to think and still get nothing. In such situations, getting external inputs to stimulate your mind is a good solution. They can break down your idea brick walls and make your creative juice flow again.

Of course, not all kinds of external inputs are useful. I believe there is an important characteristic such external inputs should have in order to be useful and that is diversity. Diversity allows you to get fresh ideas, either by giving you new perspectives on the problems you face, or by creating connections between the inputs (ideas are cross-pollinating anyway). So to break down the idea brick walls, the bottom line is this: get diverse inputs to stimulate your mind.

There are tools that can help you get these diverse inputs and I will describe six such tools. You can then find inspiration in two ways:

  1. Create connection between an input you get and the problem at hand. Find something in the input that may be applicable to your problem.
  2. Create connection between some inputs you get and the problem. First, try to create connection between an input with another inputs, and then try to find something in the connection that may be applicable to your problem.

Without further ado, here are six tools you can use to break down your idea brick walls and generate ideas:

1. Idea container

This is the only offline tool in this list. I learned about this tool from the book Thinkertoys, in which it’s called Brainbank. The idea is, you should keep a container (such as coffee can or shoe box) in which you store a lot of idea-stimulating stuff. You can put practically anything into the container, such as interesting advertisements, cartoons, and doodles. What you need to do then is picking two or more random items from the container and see if they trigger an idea. If you get nothing, just try again with another random items.

2. StumbleUpon

StumbleUpon allows you to get random pages whenever you press the Stumble button in the toolbar. There are a lot of topics provided by StumbleUpon which you can choose. You can then retrieve random pages either in a specific topic, or in all topics in your preferences. To maximize diversity, generally it’s better to stumble in all topics.

3. TDBSpecialProjects Idea Generator

TDBSpecialProjects Idea Generator is a three wheel tool that gives you random three-word phrases. While three-word phrases may not give you as much input as entire web pages, it’s still a useful way to give you diverse inputs. Look at the random words which are presented to you and see if something comes to your mind.

4. Random Quotations

Another good inputs to feed your mind with are quotes. Simply visit Random Quotations page and you will be presented with a set of random quotes. Go through them and find something that resonate with you. Find nothing? Then just reload the page and you will be presented with another set of random quotes.

5. Wikipedia random page

As its name implies, Wikipedia random page gives you random pages from Wikipedia. Due to Wikipedia’s vast repository, you can be sure that the pages presented to you will be unexpected.

Once you are in Wikipedia, you can press Alt-Shift-X to retrieve new random pages. However, I personally prefer to make Wikipedia random page as the home page in my browser (I use Firefox on Windows). This way, I can easily retrieve new random pages by pressing Alt+Home which is the shortcut to home page.

Here is how you make Wikipedia random page as your home page in Firefox:

  1. Open the Options window through menu Tools | Options.
  2. In the Main tab, there is a Home Page text box. Insert http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random there.
  3. Press Ok.

6. Random Photo Browser

Bored with words? Then you can find ideas through random pictures from Flickr. Random Photo Browser is a tool that let you do that. Alternatively, you can also use this tool. Simply open the page and you will be given a set of random pictures from Flickr. Look at the pictures and find something that inspire you. To get another pictures, simply reload the page.

Using this tool, it’s as if you go outside and observe your surroundings, only in this case you don’t even need to leave your computer. Plus it’s much faster to get new surroundings to observe.

 

The best way, of course, is to use a mix of these tools. With combined attacks from these tools, I doubt the idea brick walls can stand long.

Categories: Innovation, Thinking, Tools

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20 Responses so far.

  1. Great post, Donald!
    I particularly like using StumbleUpon’s option to show pages only from Wikipedia (combining items 2 and 5 from the list) – It always surprises me!

  2. Luciano,
    I love the idea of combining StumbleUpon and Wikipedia! I guess I need to explore my StumbleUpon toolbar more :)

  3. Kenji says:

    Nice ideas! Combining the random Wikipedia articles + random Flickr images is fun for writing poetry :-)

    Along these lines, there is a web (flex) widget that uses “morphological analysis” to play with here. It is a combination of serendipity *and* structure, which seems to be a potent mix sometimes.

    Thanks Donald!

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  5. Writing poetry sounds like an interesting idea :)

    By the way, I do like to learn about new ways to generate ideas. Thanks for sharing the information!

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  17. Vincent says:

    Hi Donald, nice article. I think you’re right that diversity is important, but the tools you listed are maybe a little too diverse. Just looking at completely unrelated random sites doesn’t do that much for me. (Even though I really like number 3, The Idea Generator).

    In case you are interested in some applications that allow you to explore new ideas in a more directed way, check out WordStorm or The visual thesaurus.

  18. Vincent,
    Thanks for the suggestions :)

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