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This content is totally hijacked from Renee Hopkins Callahan at Idea Flow. My plan is to get this content working as wiki content and then reveal it to the world! (we’ll see, but first an e-mail to Renee).

Compendium of Idea Generation Methods

Adapted March 26, 2004; latest update: April 21, 2004

This Compendium of Idea Generation Methods was published by Martin Leith at his website until summer 2003. I requested and received Martin’s permission to adapt and keep the Compendium going. In its initial state the Compendium comprised every idea generation method Martin encountered from about 1987 to 2003, from sources including books, articles, websites, academics, consultants and colleagues. The methods have been drawn not just from the world of creative problem solving and innovation, but also from other worlds such as organisational change, strategic planning, psychotherapy, cybernetics and the creative arts.

I have included Martin’s original organization, including a taxonomy: Division into ordered groups or categories), then the idea generation techniques, each linked to the alphabetical”>listing] and explanation that appears lower down the page.

Each of the alphabetically-listed methods is cross-indexed back to the relevant category through a hyperlink enclosed in brackets.

Building on Martin Leith’s original work, I would like this to be the most comprehensive collection of idea generation methods on the Internet. If you know any methods that are not listed here, or if you know another name for a listed method, please send an [“>email]]. We will mention your name on this page and will provide a link to your website if you have one.

If you have any questions, please email me: renee -at- -Renee Hopkins, March 2004

A taxonomy of idea generation methods

By Martin Leith

This taxonomy was inspired by an excellent analysis undertaken by Ty Francis, CEO of Nowhere Foundation. Were it not for Ty’s ground-breaking work, we’re pretty certain that our taxonomy would not exist. Warm thanks to Ty for sharing his work so generously.

We were also influenced by the 4Rs framework (Re-expression, Related World, Revolution and Random Links) described in the book to Start a Creative Revolution at Work, written by partners in the consultancy ?What If!: Allan], Kingdon], Murrin] and Rudkin]. The If!] people limit their framework to four categories because (they say) people find it hard to remember more than four.

?What If! framework

– Alternative ways of describing or experiencing the problem or Three sub-categories: #[[Alternative words] – Create a list of synonyms and use them to stimulate new thinking #senses] – Make a drawing or a clay model, or act it out #else’s perspective] (e.g. alien, millionaire, five year old child, Rambo)World] – Explore a related field (such as fashion if you’re looking for ideas for shampoos) and see what new ideas emerge – Break the rules *[[Random Links] – Use random words and objects as stimuli

World Views

The world consists of two types of people: lumpers and splitters. The ?What If! 4Rs framework will probably satisfy the needs of the lumpers, but the four categories are likely to be too broad for the splitters. Also, some of the methods listed below do not fit any of the four categories, which means that more categories are needed.

So we have invented our own categories, attributed each idea generation method to one of them (such as Inventory making), and related each category to its most closely corresponding worldview.

Worldview 1 – The world is a machine

Worldview 1 includes an evolved form of Worldview 1, Worldview 1+, The World is a Network of Relationships, which corresponds to Spiral”>Dynamics] vMeme ‘Green’ or Communitarian

Worldview 1 categories

Making] Across Frontiers] Removal] and Spatial Marking] Backwards]

Worldview 1+ categories=====<

(corresponds to Dynamics] vMeme ‘Green’ or Communitarian)

[[Conversational]] [[Collaborative]]

Worldview 2

The World is a System

Worldview 2 categories

the Rules] More of What Works] *Intervention]

Worldview 3 – The World is a Field of Energy and Consciousness

The worldviews are nested like a set of Russian dolls:

dolls.jpg” width=”268″ height=”123″ />

Worldview 3 categories

[[Experiential]] [[Shamanic]]

In some cases these correspondences are tenuous. When we were unsure about which category to choose, we defaulted to Worldview 1.

Any system of classification is bound to be subjective and, to some extent, arbitrary. Sometimes there were two or more headings under which a given method could be grouped, and we were faced with the task of choosing one of these. It is inevitable that people will disagree with some of our categorisation decisions. So be it. The taxonomy is intended to give some coherence to a complex subject. If you find any aspect of it annoying or unhelpful, our advice is that you simply acknowledge this and let it go.

Worldview 1 – The World is a Machine

The vast majority of idea generation methods in existence are a product of Worldview 1 thinking. Worldview 1 adherents think that if you want to have a brilliant idea, you must produce a large number of ideas and the brilliant one will be in there somewhere. Many Worldview 1 methods are derivatives of brainstorming, which is ‘quantity leads to quality’ thinking in action. And there is an emphasis on the use of the brain: the body, emotions and spirit are not harnessed to any great extent.

Category:INVENTORY MAKING defines inventory as a detailed, itemized list, report, or record of things in one’s possession, especially a periodic survey of all goods and materials in stock.

The methods included in the ‘inventory making’ category are intended to produce a comprehensive list of options, uncover all issues related to the topic-in-focus, create a rich map of the chosen territory, box the compass, take all factors into account, leave no stone unturned, make a complete inventory.


and an H] (What? Where? When? Who? Why? How?) Words] with Post-it Notes [[Fishbone Diagram]“>] Mapping] *Tree]


This involves putting together different components or features to create something new. *Crawling]


This is the opposite of combining. It involves breaking something down into its component parts to see if one or more of the parts can be eliminated, replaced or assembled in new ways. *Listing] (Morphological analysis)

Category: BUILDING

The emphasis here is on taking someone’s idea and enhancing it or using it to trigger related ideas.

All of these methods are examples of the ‘nominal group technique’. People are nominally in a group but they come up with ideas on their own and then share them with the rest of the group.

Writing] [[Metaplan]]


Methods in this category involve the use of an external stimulus to trigger new thinking.

”Connection making” Decks] Fit] and Cliches] Objects ] *Excursion]

”Metaphorical” the Problem] Excursion] Worlds] [[Synectics]]

”Pattern based” Improvement Checklist] Inventive Thinking] [[TRIZ]]


These methods involve looking at other contexts, such as industries, disciplines and companies, to see what ideas might be imported, with or without adaptation.

[[Benchmarking]] [[Parallels]] *[[Swiping]]


If it were not for constraints (blocks, barriers, obstacles), your desired future – or desired present, as we prefer to think of it – would become reality immediately. The methods in this category are designed to help you identify constraints and invent ways of removing them.

and van de Ven method] Field Analysis]


Laddering, or Ladder of abstraction, involves moving from the specific to the general, or from the general to the specific.



The concepts of anchoring and spatial marking form part of Neuro Linguistic Programming] and are based on [[Gregory Bateson

Gregory Benson’s]] work on contexts and context markers. Anchoring is ‘applying a gesture, touch, or sound just before a state peaks, either in oneself or someone else, so that the anchored state can be re-activated by reapplying that gesture, touch or sound. A smell can also be used as an anchor. For example, as you remember the smell of a rose, you may find a memory of some experience that involved roses coming to mind. Psychologists recognise the pattern of anchoring as stimulus response conditioning. (Source: Inspiritive”>NLP Glossary].) Spatial marking is ‘consistently using different areas of space for different actions to associate location with action.’ (Source: Neuro Linguistic Programming Glossary].)

Thinking Hats] Walking] *Disney Creativity Strategy]


This category is for methods that involve imagining that the problem has been solved or that the desired result has been achieved, and working backwards to find out how the result was successfully accomplished.


Worldview 1+ – The World is a Network of Relationships

(corresponds to Spiral”>Dynamics] vMeme ‘Green’ or Communitarian)

Worldview 1+ is a subset of Worldview 1 as it is still based on notions of cause and effect, and first order change. However, it is an evolved form of Worldview 1 and is a vital bridge to Worldview 2. Worldview 1+ idea generation methods are macro processes in which members of the whole stakeholder system, or significant parts of it, work together as equals to bring something new into being. The macro processes consist of a collection of micro processes, many of which include methods described on this page, particularly techniques listed under the Worldview 1 heading.

Macro process

(e.g. Real Time Strategic Change)

”Underlying structure” Dissatisfaction → Vision → Capability → First steps

Dissatisfaction Micro processes (workshop sessions) Techniques Vision *Micro processes (workshop sessions) Techniques Capability *Micro processes (workshop sessions) Techniques First steps *Micro processes (workshop sessions) *Techniques


Conversational methods involve two or more people coming up with ideas by having a conversation. Many such conversations take place at the same time, and the people having the conversations are members of all relevant stakeholder groups.



Collaborative methods involve people, drawn from different parts of the stakeholder system, working together as equals to determine the results that need to be achieved, and to develop practical plans for achieving them.

Group Intervention Methods] including The Conference Model®, Future Search, Open Space Technology, Real Time Strategic Change, Search Conferences and Simu-Real Planning]

Worldview 2 – The World is a System

Whereas Worldview 1 is an understanding of reality based on the thinking of Newton and Descartes, first order change and the laws of cause and effect, Worldview 2 represents an altogether different view of reality. Under Worldview 2, problem solving, development, innovation and change come about through small nudges that subtly alter the natural flow of events, such that the needs and interests of all relevant parties are satisfied, quickly and with existing resources. Although causal analysis is still useful for solving simple problems such as machine failure, complex issues are addressed through context manipulation, pattern analysis and constraint removal.


If we stick to the real or imagined rules, the only kind of change that is possible is what Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch called ‘first order change’. (Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution, by Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland and Richard Fisch.7Egordons/research/processes/ngt.htm”>]].

[[delphi””>id=”delphi”>]Delphi Technique This uses a panel of experts which meets to predict the future of a particular issue. Each panel member makes his or her own forecast, and the different forecasts are assembled in a composite report. This is given to the panel for comment. The process is repeated until a workable consensus of the likely future emerges.

id=”E”>]id=”excursions”>]Excursion Techniques Popularised by Synectics Ltd., the various excursion techniques are all processes for getting away from a problem in order to return with fresh insights. Metaphors are used to provide new thinking about a problem, and the ideas are then force-fitted back to the original problem. id=”streetexcursion”>]Street Excursion [[springboards”>Springboards].] This simply means taking a walk and using whatever you see to trigger new associations. Certain environments can be particularly rich sources of ideas: high streets, parks, zoos, industrial areas, and so on. id=”exampleexcursion”>]Example Excursion A technique which involves finding examples or parallels from other contexts, such as geology, electricity or the weather. id=”careerexcursion”>]Career Excursion [[springboards”>Springboards].] Here you look at the problem through the eyes of someone who does a completely different job, such as a nurse, an astronaut or a ballet”imagingexcursion”>]Imaging Excursion Take a random word … get comfortable … ‘go inside’ and take a few deep breaths … let your chosen word trigger a picture in your mind’s eye … allow the picture to take its own course, like a movie in your head … after a few minutes, replay the movie and, as you do so, let it suggest ideas for the problem you are working on (these can be as absurd as you like) … then capture the ideas.

id=”F”>]id=”fishbonediagram”>]Fishbone Diagram [[inventorymaking”>Inventory Making].] Explanation will be added soon.

id=”fivewhys”>]Five Whys There are two very different methods, both called Five whys.

Method 1 is intended to find the ‘root cause’ of a problem. (This is based on the presupposition that all problems have root causes.) Ask “Why does this problem occur?” When you have an answer, ask “Why is this so?”, and repeat this procedure until you have asked “Why?” five times. The answer to the fifth “Why?” is likely to be the root cause.

Increase the number of clients

Improve existing methods Develop new methods

Faster response Follow-up lost clients Rent a mailing list Attend conferences

New process Training

Direct mail Tele-phone Define targets Find a list broker Decide which ones Make bookings

id=”reversals”>]Reversals Technique This is another way to break out of stuckness, and is similar to playing devil’s advocate. Tudor”>Rickards] has defined three types of reversals technique: (1) problem challenge, (2) problem swotting, and (3) amplifying SOS (signs of stuckness) signals. A trigger phrase here might be: “If we turn it upside down and take the opposite view we might get …”.

id=”richpictures”>]Rich Pictures [[experiential”>Experiential].] Explanation will be added soon.

id=”robertbly”>]Robert Bly Method Without thinking about your issue (the problem you want to solve or the result you want to create), you go into the garden and find a natural object that catches your attention. You then study this object very closely for quite a long time – five minutes, ten minutes or longer. Then, and only then, do you recall the problem or result, noticing any new ideas or perspectives that arise. Note: Do not attempt to make any connection between the object and the issue. This is not a version of the ‘Random”>objects]’ method.

id=”roleplay”>]Role Play [[experiential”>Experiential].] Explanation will be added soon.

id=”S”>]id=”sabre”>]SABRE Interventions [[minimalist”>Minimalist Intervention].] SABRE is an acronym for a Small Action that triggers a Big REsult. See Minimalist”>intervention].

id=”scamper”>]SCAMPER [[springboards”>Springboards].] A useful tool developed by Bob Eberle to use when all else has failed. The acronym stands for Substitute/Simplify, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Rearrange/Reverse. Note: This technique embraces a number of separate techniques. Substitute is the same as attribute listing. Reversing is exploring the opposite of what currently exists, making the situation worse, playing devil’s advocate and so on. See alsoProduct”>Improvement Check List].

id=”scenarioplanning”>]Scenario Planning [[collaborative”>Collaborative].] A corporate planning method pioneered by Royal Dutch/Shell, in which different possible versions of the future are explored using a mixture of research and left/right brain thinking. More info: 3Dpd5Fsim5Fb5Fdp/202-0786500-1740642"><br /> 0415247616/ref3Dpd5Fsim5Fb%5Fdp/202-0786500-1740642]]

[[wildestidea””>id=”wildestidea”>]Wildest Idea Session Also known as Wishful Thinking. Group members propose ideas on the basis that anything goes and there are no limitations. The trigger phrase is: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if …”.

id=”wishfulthinking”>]Wishful Thinking See Wildest”>Idea Session].

id=”wisdomcouncil”>]Wisdom Council [[experiential”>Experiential].] Explanation will be added soon.

id=”workingbackwards”>]Working Backwards [[workingbackwards”>Working Backwards].] SeeBackward”>Mapping].

id=”XYZ”>]id=”zenkoancards”>]Zen Koan Cards See Koans]].

[[others””>id=”others”>]Some other methods

Etymology, I Ching, IdeaFisher computer program, Inflatable light bulb, Intuition, Meta mirror, Myths and fairy tales, Paradoxical injunction, Pattern interruption, Pocket Innovator, Reframing, Repatterning, Runes

id=”websites”>]Other websites

The following websites contain extensive information on idea generation methods:]]

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Thank”>you Marc Heleven of CREAX (excellent [”>website]) for alerting us to these websites.

About IdeaFlow

Where do new ideas come from? What conditions are best for creativity and innovation in business and how can such a climate and culture be nurtured and sustained? And to what extent do technology businesses need to constantly create groundbreaking new ideas and products, “disruptive” technologies, and innovative ways of doing business, in order to be successful?

Blogs themselves are a terrific example of “distributed creativity” and in this Corante-published blog we’ll be talking about creativity and innovation from all angles – including the academic – as well as how the flow of new ideas can keep the business of technology moving forward.


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