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Welcome to the Random Word tutorial

Click here for the free interactive online version of this technique

How to use the Random Word technique

Welcome to the Random Word technique, the most basic and obviously creative technique where you use a random word (hence the name!) to generate new ideas. By getting a random word as a prompt and forcing yourself to use it to solve your problem you are practically guaranteed to attack the problem from a different direction to normal. You take a word from a random word generator, extract its underlying principles and then apply them to your problem to see how they can help. The skill is stopping your mind from (a) thinking this is silly and (b) directly using the actual principles behind the word to your problem without changing them to ones which are easier to apply.

The first thing you need is the random word itself which is classed as the initial stimulus. Next, you establish a bridging idea, which is an idea based on the stimulus. This is used, as the name implies, as a bridge between the stimulus and an idea which you could actually use on your problem. The simplest way to get a random word is using our dedicated software (Brainstorming Toolbox) to give you a random word at the touch of a button.

Quick example 1:

Using the random word "Balloon" in the context of new ideas about cars.

A bridging idea could be that you inflate the balloon under the car. The advantages of this would be that the car jack would not puncture rusty cars and that cars could be raised on soft ground.

The resulting final idea could be to have a car jack which spreads its force more evenly under the car and onto the ground.

Quick example 2:

Using a random word of "Spacecraft" in the context of new ideas about kitchens.

A bridging idea would be to consider what would happen if the kitchen was in space and what would happen because of gravity.

The resulting idea could lead to the fact that you would need to stop the pans from floating off the cooker/hob. This could lead to using magnets to hold the pans on (back on the earth's surface). This would stop small children from accidentally pulling the hot pans onto themselves. Or how about using a magnetic field to heat the pan?

Where you get the random word is up to you. The quickest and most random way to get one is by using computer software. If you don't have that, flip though a dictionary and stop randomly, or pick a random page, paragraph and word from a general interest magazine.

You are welcome to use our free web version (which contains one hundred words) to show you how useful it can be.

One you have got a random word, there are many ways of using it, including:

  1. Replacing the problem object with the random noun and imagining what would happen. (NB. It is easier, safer and cheaper to do this first in your mind and than in reality.) Think it over in your mind and see what you can get out of it. What does it remind you of, regarding your own problem? What are the benefits from replacing it? If the benefits are original but not practical, then are there any ways you can get the same effect from a more practical means? If there are no benefits, what are the disadvantages and how might you counter them? (See how powerful this is - whether you think it is good or bad to replace it, both points of view can lead to new ideas!)

  2. Looking at the principles behind the random word and reapplying them to your own problem. How does the random object behave? Why does it behave like that? What are its characteristics? Why does it fit its own environment but has not been reapplied elsewhere? Now think of HOW you can apply the principles to your own problem. The skill is in thinking "How can we make this work?" and disregarding any initial thoughts that it won't work.

  3. Looking at its benefits. Are they benefits you want? How can you get the same benefits for your own situation? How does the selected word achieve the benefits and how can you use that principle?

Click here for more methods of moving from a stimulus to an idea.

Use the following as an example:

You are working for a car manufacturer in the wheel department and are trying to come up with some new ideas about the wheel (without reinventing it!) Imagine you are now given this random word: toothbrush! What are your initial thoughts? Probably something like "How on earth is this relevant?" or "What a silly idea, they're totally unconnected". But before we go on, spend a couple of minutes trying to come up with a few ideas.

Ok, here are some examples of ideas you might have come up with (including some working through of the thinking process behind them, which you would not normally write down):

Replacing the wheel with a toothbrush:

Bridging ideas:

Imagine the whole tyre of the wheel is made of toothbrush bristles. What are the advantages?
(PS tyre = tire using US spelling)
  1. Much better grip in the snow.
  2. Small stones pass straight through with a minor disturbance of the bristles. Cleans the road as it goes.

Resulting relevant ideas:

  1. Create a snow tyre where the snow (or water) is forced though holes in the bottom of the tyre and shot out through small tubes in the rubber, thus stopping the tyre tread from clogging up.
  2. Retractable spikes in the tyre.
  3. Dimples in the tyre so that small stones are not felt by the passenger(s).
  4. What other principles are there about toothbrushes?

Features of a toothbrush:

Bridging ideas:

  1. Some toothbrushes change colour when they have been used for too long.
  2. Some toothbrushes squirt out toothpaste while you brush.
  3. They have springy handles to make sure you do not press too hard.
  4. Some have ridges so that at least some bristles get to the bottom of the dips in teeth.
  5. They come in plastic containers for travelling.
  6. You brush your teeth with them twice a day.

Resulting relevant ideas:

  1. How about a tyre which has two layers of coloured rubber so that when the underneath layer shows through, the tyre needed replacing. Also police could spot bald tyres from a distance.
  2. Could a mini-camera spot oil on the road and spray out an oil remover or could the tyre eject salt in front of the car in the case of ice?
  3. Could the suspension be a flexible bit of metal instead of a spring and damper?
  4. If the rubber of the tyre was made of a mixture of hard and soft rubber then the soft bits would stick into the dimples in the road and stick better.
  5. Could we sell a cover for car wheels so that in snowy countries the wheels would not get blocked with snow? Could we use the cover to stop being wheel-clamped?
  6. Could we produce a device which measured the deterioration of the car tyre which each person could check everyday (how might they remember?)?

What are the benefits of a toothbrush?

Bridging ideas:

  1. You don't get rotten teeth.
  2. It scrapes nasty stuff from your teeth.
  3. It makes your teeth feel clean and smooth.

Resulting relevant ideas:

  1. Could we produce an X-ray device to measure the internal condition of a tyre.
  2. People often have to pick out stones from the tyre treads. We could make a 'tread comb' to make this easier and encourage people to use it to make their tyres last longer. We could make it so it only fitted the tyres we sell and so our customers would be pleased by how much longer our tyres lasted.
  3. Can we produce a tyre that sprays the ground water on to the car tyre and thus washes itself?

Things to watch out for when using the technique

You must be careful not to decide that a specific word is of no use and getting another instead. If you do this then you are more likely than not just trying to choose a word which neatly fits into the problem you are trying to solve; effectively you don't really end up with a random word. Again, the skill is to work out HOW the word can be made to fit.

Be careful not to create too many steps between the random word as a stimulus and the creation of a relevant idea, or you may run the risk of ending up with an idea you already know works. eg. A suggests B, which suggests C, which suggests D - which is the idea we're already using.

You also have to train yourself not to link the word with an idea you already know about. You should not take the word at face value. You must guard against using the technique to come up with an old idea to show that the old idea is good, eg. I already like the idea of using brushes on the inside of the wheel arches to clean the tyre so I will link "toothbrushes" to a wheel to come up with the same idea. Wow, it must be a good idea because this random technique came up with it.

Other things to bear in mind

Some words will work and others will not, depending on the problem and on the individual involved. No word is guaranteed better than another, it just depends on the situation. You could use a large number of words for each problem or a small number but if you find yourself using a large amount then you should question yourself as to how you are using the word. You may be just searching for a word to fit with an idea you have already. Of course, sometimes using a continuous stream of different words can get a large number of ideas too, but ... c'est la vie.

You can also use the random word technique for assessing the current situation. Often by having a word in front of you, you are stimulated to think about different aspect of the problem. Eg. when I brush my teeth the forces on the toothbrush are in all different directions; is there a problem with having suspension which only goes up and down?; or, when I was a child I hated brushing my teeth, so is the problem with a lot of car journeys that the people in the back hate being there because they cannot see anything?

Often using a random word can just remind you of something which you knew all along but you had forgotten to write down in your investigation. If you have dozens of aspects to a problem, and even if you feel you know them all, it can still be tricky to recall them all when it comes to actually writing them down. A random word can often help remind you of them again.

A similar technique, and the next technique to be explained, is the Random Picture Technique which uses a picture as a stimulus instead of a word. Some people find it easier to use pictures rather than words, others vice-versa. You will have to experiment to see which suits you best. Some people, of course, find both techniques work equally well for them but for different aspects of different probortunities.

Try the random word technique for yourself and you will certainly improve at coming up with new ideas.

Get a random word now - click here for the free interactive technique or try a 30 day trial of our specialist software (Brainstorming Toolbox) to make random words appear on your screen.

To move to the next technique (the Random Picture technique), click on the green door to continue the green (Advanced Brainstorming) tour.
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