Ed Glassman

Bizarre Ideas Trigger Unexpected Creative Solutions In Meetings

DEFINITION: Creativity at work is a process of combining old information and old ideas into New & Useful ideas. This contradicts the myth that real creativity generates ideas out of nothing. That belief is not true.

Solving problems creatively at work is a down-to-earth activity, not a mountain top phenomenon. You need a prepared mind full of diverse facts & ideas that you mix & combine to form creative connections from remote associations.

You do want to be more creative than your competition, don’t you? Then stuff your mind for creativity with new facts & ideas by attending trade fairs, meetings, reading, travel, talking to peers, customers, vendors, training, etc.

In addition, use a trigger to spark creative connections in your mind. Use bizarre trigger-ideas as stepping stones to spark new ideas.


  Creative thinking yields many non-useful, even bizarre, ideas. However, all ideas, even bizarre ideas, can act as useful stepping stones to provoke better ideas, and to even shift paradigms.

For example, consider the statement: “Let’s train bears to climb telephone poles in winter and shake off the ice that breaks the transmission wires.” This idea was proposed to prevent ice from sticking to and breaking power lines in a mountainous region. One of the men had complained about being harassed by bears on one repair trip. This led one of the people in the meeting, in a spirit of fun, to suggest training bears to climb the poles and shake the ice loose, clearly a bizarre idea.

A second person, again in jest, suggested putting honey on the top of the poles so the bears would climb the poles and shake the ice off the wires, another bizarre idea. A third person suggested, still in fun, placing honey pots on the poles to attract the bears, also a bizarre idea. And another suggested using helicopters to place the honey on the top of the poles to attract the bears.

This led to a potential solution. The down draft from helicopters flying over the wires, might knock the ice off, an idea worth testing.

*** For another telling of this tale, see “The Honey Pot: A Lesson in Creativity & Diversity” by Elaine Camper, April 2, 1993, at: . And also here: “Re-engineering Tool Kit: 15 Tools and Technologies for Re-engineering Your Organization” by Cheryl Currid, Prima Publishing, 1996.

People embellish this story with each retelling. Still, it illustrates that bizarre trigger-ideas can spark useful solutions. Unless you encourage and help bizarre ideas to survive, you will hinder creative thinking and lose opportunities for creativity.

In this way bizarre trigger-ideas spark useful solutions. Unless you help bizarre ideas survive, you lose much creativity at work. In other words, don’t squelch bizarre trigger-ideas. Use them to spark better ideas. Squelch criticism, not bizarre trigger-ideas.

A HABIT THAT SPOILS CREATIVE THINKING: We squelch bizarre trigger-ideas instead of using them to shift paradigms and spark better ideas.


Many ways exist to get new and useful ideas. One uses Linear Creativity: A –> B –> C –> D –> E –> New & Useful Idea.

You check each step carefully for truth and logic before continuing. Precise and analytical, you know where you are heading, how to get there, and why you want to be there. Does it work at work? Of course. We base much of our rational thinking on this model.

Another way to get new and useful ideas is through Nonlinear Creativity. Ideas leap from: A => L => Z => R => E=> X… and eventually out of bizarre trigger-ideas and some very remote creative connections, a new and useful idea may emerge.

A very uncertain process, you do not know where it is heading, how or when you will get there, or why you even want to be there. It’s risky, unpredictable, and ambiguous. Often it leads nowhere, but when a new and useful idea emerges, it’s very likely to represent a paradigm shift and be unique.

Let’s take another look at the Nonlinear Creativity example above.

• Bear harasses telephone pole repair man.

• Train bears to climb poles and shake ice off.

• Place pots of honey on tops of poles to attract bears to climb and shake the wires.

• Use helicopters to place pots of honey on tops of poles to attract bears.

• Use the down blast of helicopters to shake ice off the wires.

None of these bizarre ideas logically led to the other, yet the outcome was quite useful. Had the process been stopped along the way by someone insisting on seriousness, the useful outcome would never occur.

Do you deliberately misperceive the world enough at work to obtain a new creative viewpoint? If not, consider using bizarre trigger-ideas. Squelch criticism, not bizarre trigger-ideas.

And checkout my NEW 2016 book:


How To Be More Creative Than You Think You Are.” 


©2016 by Edward Glassman


Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International in Palo Alto, California.

His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here OR HERE.

His book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is available.   CLICK here  OR HERE

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.