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Ideas on Demand

You don't have to wait for inspiration.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the April 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

You've heard the stories about how chance, an accident or a mistake led to valuable inventions-penicillin, Velcro and Post-It Notes are just a few. But you don't have to rely on fate to provide inspiration. You can create conditions that spark new ideas any time by using creativity techniques such as the novel prompt.

Once you've clarified the ideas you're looking for-say, a spinoff of a highly successful product or ideas for a new ad campaign-introduce a novel and unlikely prompt as a catalyst for the free association of ideas. After you generate lots of ideas, sort and refine them into practical and innovative actions.

A novel prompt can be anything: a word, an object, a fantasy, a color. The theory behind this technique is that by using something unusual to launch your thinking, you'll generate ideas you wouldn't otherwise.

Many people find objects are the most evocative prompts. You can use one or more objects for this exercise. The following example uses three.

Place a mask, a bell and a moveable child's toy (or any objects you like) on the table in clear view. Notice everything you can about each object: its function, color, shape, texture. Focus on only one object or each in turn, or the objects in relation to each other. List the qualities of the objects and then see what they suggest to you, or think about the function of the object and see what that generates.

For example, if you're trying to generate new marketing strategies, the mask might suggest what people don't know about your product or service; the bell may evoke ideas about the reach and clarity of your message. The child's toy may be green, which reminds you of spring, and that prompts the idea of doing a special promotion. Let your ideas flow freely.

Don't stop until you come up with at least 10 ideas. When you first begin to free-associate, it may seem difficult to come up with that many, but keep going. This forces you to move past your limiting judgments about what is appropriate or possible. You never know what will work or what will spark another idea that might work. Remember, in this generating stage, the ideas that come to you don't have to be realistic. You want to go for volume. Quality control comes later.

By using the novel prompt technique, inspiration no longer has to depend on chance.

How have your creative practices helped your business? Share your comments with us by e-mailing the author at the address below.

Juanita Weaver is a creativity consultant and coach. Contact her at

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