Sunday, May 20, 2007

Idea Techniques (Group B)

In the book THINKERTOYS, Michael Michalko, presents sets of techniques for generating ideas. In my previous post, I covered Group A linear techniques for ideas. In this post, I'll cover Group B. The Group B linear techniques arranges information in a way so that you move in determined steps toward a new idea.


  • Tug-of-War (Force field analysis) – How to graph a challenge’s positive and negative forces and then maximize the positives and minimize the negatives.
  • Idea Box (Morphological analysis) – How to identify and box the parameters of a challenge to quickly produce thousands of new ideas.
  • Idea Grid (FCB grid) – How to find new ideas and creative strategies using a grid to organize complex masses of information.
  • Lotus Blossom (Diagramming) – How to diagram obstacles and then use them to reach your goal.
  • Phoenix (Questions) – How to use a checklist of problem-solving questions – originated by the CIA – to guide your thinking.
  • The Great Transpacific Airline and Storm Door Company (Matrix) – How to create a keyword index and mix and match the key words in a matrix to produce new ideas.
  • Future Fruit (Future scenarios) – How to project a future scenario in order to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

The following are blueprints for the techniques.


  1. Write the challenge you are trying to solve.
  2. Describe the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario.
  3. List the conditions of the situation.
  4. Note the “tug-of-war.” As you list the conditions, you will find the forces pushing you to the best case and those pulling you toward catastrophe. Pit each condition against the opposite of the continuum by specifying push and pull powers.

Idea Box

  1. Specify your challenge.
  2. Select the parameter of your challenge.
  3. List variations.
  4. Try different combinations.

Idea Grid

  1. Create two rows for a grid: High Involvement and Low Involvement.
  2. Create two columns in the grid: Think and Feel.

The FCB Grid enables you to compress large amounts of complex information.

  • High involvement – represents perceptions of expensive products such as cars and boats.
  • Low involvement – represents less costly products such as ordinary household products.
  • Think - represents verbal, numerical, analytic, cognitive products for which the consumer desired information and data. For example, automobiles, boats, computers, cameras and so on.
  • Feel – represents products that appeal to a consumer’s emotional needs and desires such as travel, beauty, cosmetics and so on.

You place your product on the grid by researching both the product and its potential market. For instance, life insurance would fall in the High Involvement / Think quadrant, insecticide in the Low Involvement/Think, and costume jewelry in the Low Involvement / Feel quadrant. The FCB Grid allows you to:

  • Identify holes in the market.
  • Predict the demand for new product ideas.
  • Formulate an advertising strategy.
  • Reposition your business or product.

Lotus Blossom

  1. Draw a Lotus Blossum diagram and write the problem or idea in the center of the diagram.
  2. Write the significant components or themes of your subject in the circles surrounding the center circle, labeled A to H.
  3. Use the ideas written in the circles as the central themes for the surrounding lotus blossom petals or boxes.
  4. Continue the process until the lotus blossom diagram is completed.


  1. Write your challenge. Isolate the challenge you want to think about and commit yourself to an answer, if not the answer, by a certain date.
  2. Ask questions. Use the Phoenix checklist to dissect the challenge into as many different ways as you can.
  3. Record your answers. Information requests, solutions, and ideas for evaluation and analysis.

The Problem Checklist

  • Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
  • What benefits will you gain by solving the problem?
  • What is the unknown?
  • What is it you don’t understand?
  • What is the information you have?
  • What isn’t the problem?
  • Is the information sufficient? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?
  • Should you draw a diagram of the problem? A figure?
  • Where are the boundaries of the problem?
  • Can you separate the various parts of the problem? Can you write them down? What are the relationships of the parts of the problem?
  • What are the constants (things that can’t be changed) of the problem?
  • Have you seen this problem before?
  • Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form?
  • Do you know a related problem?
  • Try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown.
  • Suppose you find a problem related to your that has already been solved. Can you use it? Can you use its method?
  • Can you restate your problem? Can you use its method?
  • Can you restate your problem? How many different ways can you restate it? More general? More specific? Can the rules be changed?
  • What are the best, worst, and most probably cases you can imagine?

The Plan Checklist

  • Can you solve the whole problem? Part of the problem?
  • What would you like the resolution to be? Can you picture it?
  • How much of the unknown can you determine?
  • Can you derive something useful from the information you have?
  • Have you used all the information?
  • Have you taken into account all essential notions in the problem?
  • Can you separate the steps in the problem-solving process? Can you determine the correctness of each step?
  • What creative-thinking techniques can you use to generate ideas? How many different techniques?
  • Can you see the result? How many different kinds of results can you see?
  • How many different ways have you tried to solve the problem?
  • What have others done?
  • Can you intuit the solution? Can you check the result?
  • What should be done? How should it be done?
  • Where should it be done?
  • When should it be done?
  • Who should do it?
  • What do you need to do at this time?
  • Who will be responsible for what?
  • Can you use the problem to solve some other problem?
  • What is the unique set of qualities that makes this problem what it is and none other?
  • What milestone can best mark your progress? How will you know when you are successful?

The Great Transpacific Airline and Storm Door Company

  1. Ask “What is our business?” and “What should our business be?”
  2. Define and organize your business according to products or services, markets, functions, and technologies.
  3. Under each variable, list the key words for the business: Key words describe the products or services, markets, functions and technologies in your industry.
  4. Mix and match your products, markets, functions, services and technologies in various ways to explore new ideas.

Future Fruit

  1. Identify a particular problem in your business.
  2. State a particular decision that has to be made.
  3. Identify the forces (economic, technological, product lines, competition, and so on) that have an impact on the decision.
  4. Build for or five future scenarios based on the principal forces. Use all the available information and develop scenarios that will give you as many different and plausible possibilities as a pinball in play.
  5. Develop the scenarios into stories or narratives by varying the forces that impact the decision. Change the forces (interest rates escalate, a key performer quits, need for your product or service disappears, etc.) and combine them into different patterns to describe the possible consequences of your decision over the next five years.
  6. Search for business opportunities within each scenario. Then explore the links between opportunities across the range of your scenarios, and actively search for new ideas.

Key Take Aways

  • My favorite example is the Tug-of-War. It's about reframing and changing the position of negative forces to neutralize thier impact and empower you.
  • Fitting your challenges into an Idea Box forces you to find new meanings and connections.
  • I like the Idea Grid's ability to compress information. I find compressed information is easier to quickly see new patterns and possbilities.
  • I had a hard time following how to do the Lotus Blossum, but once I figured it out, I like how it helps you track the whole systems of interacting elements.
  • I like the lightweight and question-driven appraoch to Pheonix.

Additional Resources

My Related Posts