Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

How A Special Sequence Of Creativity Triggers Can Boost New And Unusual Ideas In Creativity Meetings At Work

Special idea-generating sequences beef up Creative Thinking Meetings. The concept is to use creativity triggers in a gradual sequence to boost the production of high quality, unusual ideas that shift paradigms and solve vexing, chronic problems.

The sequence I like to use consists of (1) non-evaluative listing (brainstorming)  ->  (2) improving bizarre trigger-ideas game  ->  (3) from the weird to the workable idea  ->  (4) idea gallery  ->  (5) free word association imagery  ->  (6) idea card.

This sequence starts immediately after each 5 to 6 member creativity team has defined the problem and covered the walls with flip chart paper on which the creativity teams have non-evaluatively listed over 150 problem statements.

I ask the participants to walk around the room and check five to ten problem statements which they would like to solve, a straw vote to identify the problem statements that most people deem most important.

I then ask each creativity team to choose the three problem statements that they want to solve. Note, we do not actively reject any problem statements, we merely leave them behind.

Non-Evaluative Listing. 

By the end of the meeting, I want the participants to leave with a high quality solution that no one had in his/her mind when they first walked into the meeting room. So I start with non-evaluative listing (brainstorming) because it enables everyone to record their pet ideas so they stop worrying about losing them. Also, it flushes and cleans out the mind of obvious solutions and makes room for newer ideas, so the more advanced creativity techniques work even better. A nice warm-up procedure.

Here’s how it works. I ask each creativity team of 5 to 6 people to choose a recorder and non-evaluatively list (brainstorm) ideas on flip chart paper to solve one of the how-to problem statements. I occasionally ask for bizarre ideas. Much laughter follows.

I then ask each creativity team to hang the flip chart papers containing their ideas on the wall for future use. They quickly notice that the problem statement channels the ideas generated. Thus, if you want to solve the right problem, choose the right problem statement.

• Improve Bizarre Trigger-Ideas Game. 

I now suggest that they do not understand what I mean by a bizarre idea, and ask them to play the ‘improve bizarre trigger-ideas game.’

I want to get each person to stretch their imagination and express bizarre ideas beyond previous levels. In addition, it shows the creativity team how to develop an idea no matter how bizarre, and strengthen it so it becomes useful. Paradigms shift constantly.

The game has simple rules. Each creativity team has four minutes to generate the most bizarre idea to solve the chosen problem. Then they pass their idea to another creativity team.

That other creativity team has four minutes to use this idea as a trigger to spark a better idea. If it does so, it gets one point. If it does not, the other creativity team gets one point.

We repeat this game two or three times. It amazes me how bizarre the ideas can get and how ingeniously people use them to trigger useful ideas. I often pass out an unevenly folded blank flip chart paper as the bizarre idea. Even a folded blank sheet sparks new ideas.

This idea-generating procedure triggers a turning point. People discover that openness to bizarre ideas through non-evaluation can pump up creative thinking and precipitate paradigm shifts.

• Weird to Workable Idea. 

I now ask the recorder of each creativity team to divide a large flip chart paper into four quadrants with a marker. Each creativity team writes a very “weird” idea to solve their problem statement in the first quadrant. They generate an exotic, absurd, and bizarre idea. They pass the flip chart paper to another creativity team.

This creativity team uses the weird idea to trigger a “better” idea, and writes it in the second quadrant of the flip chart paper. They pass the flip chart paper to another creativity team.

This creativity team uses the better idea to trigger a “practical” idea, and writes it in the third quadrant. They pass the flip chart paper to another creativity team.

This creativity team uses the practical idea to trigger a “workable” idea, and writes it in the fourth quadrant of the flip chart paper. Thus they turn the weird idea into a sensible, practical solution. In general, the more bizarre and weird the first idea, the more likely the final workable idea shifts a paradigm and creates a different, original, unexpected outcome.

• Idea Gallery. 

Earlier in the session, I noted the six to ten problem statements that people checked the most during the straw vote. I write these problem statements at the top of flip chart paper, one problem statement per sheet. and attach them to the wall for ‘idea gallery.’

People walk around and write ideas and solutions directly on the papers. The ideas that accumulate on the paper frequently triggers ideas in other people as they wander around. Such movement often helps creative thinking.

• Free Word Association Imagery. 

This technique generates very few, but highly unique and worthwhile ideas..

1. The recorder of the creativity team intuitively selects a dynamic word from the chosen problem statement.

2. People in the creativity team forget about the problem. One member says a one-word free association to the chosen word. Each member of the creativity team in turn gives a one-word free association to the preceding word generated.

3. The recorder intuitively picks one of the words. People close their eyes and spend a few minutes forming an image around the chosen word. People describe their images, which the recorder non-evaluatively lists on flip chart paper.

4. People in the creativity team force exotic and bizarre combinations between any of the images and the chosen problem statement, the more impractical, absurd, and utterly weird, the better.

5. People use the bizarre image combinations to trigger practical ideas which the recorder lists on flip chart paper.

6. The creativity team develops the list into a quality solution.

The process may be repeated many times! Expect extraordinary results and many paradigm shifts.

• Idea Card. 

People in the creativity team now sit quietly for about 30 to 40 minutes and privately write one idea per card on 5″ x 8″ colored index cards with a dark marker. I ask them to write non-evaluatively. I suggest they use the non-evaluative listing and automatic writing principles that I describe in my books.

Occasionally I encourage them to write an absurd, bizarre, exotic idea to trigger other ideas. After a while I suggest they exchange cards to relax and allow someone else’s idea to spark new ideas. I encourage them to write down the first idea that comes to mind when looking at each new card. I call a five-minute break after 20 minutes.

As another variation, I ask them to write an absurd, bizarre, exotic idea on an index card and pass the idea card to the person on their right. I suggest they use that idea as a trigger-idea to spark a better idea and write down the first idea that comes to mind as they read the idea on the card from the other person.

Idea card gives each person a chance to sit quietly and thoughtfully reflect on the problem, mull over the new mind channels and paradigms they have discovered, and to privately generate many new ideas to solve the problem. Many new ideas emerge.

After idea card, we place the cards on tables or the floor, or pin them to a wall so the participants can see them in preparation for the next steps in the sequence that eventually lead to detailed development and action plans for the ideas they produced.

This sequence of advanced idea-generating triggers teaches people in each creativity team, in turn…

to stay non-evaluative, to get rid of pet ideas, and to open their minds to fresh ideas (non-evaluative listing);

to use bizarre ideas to trigger better ideas (improve bizarre ideas game and weird idea to workable idea);

to generate bizarre ideas and force combinations between them and the problem (free word association imagery);

to quietly record ideas alone (idea gallery and idea card).

And best of all, as all this learning takes place, many paradigms shift, and people in each creativity team create hundreds of ideas that lead to high-quality solutions.

And check out my book:


How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.” 


©2016 by Ed 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.
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