Once you’ve started to raise questions about the way things work—whether it’s your company, your career, your local animal shelter, or maybe your overall life—it’s incumbent upon you to try to seek out fresh answers. And this leads to the idea-generating stage that designers call “ideation.”
I happen to prefer metaphors to jargon, so in Glimmer I refer to this process of coming up with new ideas as “jumping fences.” Think of it this way: When you’re trying to come up with an idea—something really fresh and innovative—there’s a fence you must clear. On the other side of that fence lies originality. On your side is the status quo—familiar ideas, and existing ways of doing things.
So how do you jump that tall fence in front of you? It may seem counter-intuitive, but start by moving sideways. “Lateral thinking” is an indirect way of coming at challenges and problems, and finding new paths.
In Glimmer, I examine lateral thinking with help from the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister (above, left), considered one of the most original thinkers in the business. Sagmeister is steeped in the theories of philosopher Edward De Bono, who found that the brain has a natural propensity for repetition because that’s when it functions most smoothly and efficiently. “But when it comes to ideation or thinking of something completely new,” Sagmeister told me, “ this whole repetition thing is actually a drag.” Wanting to do the same things over and over, the brain will tend to think of ideas it has thought of before, as if they were new.
To avoid this, Sagmeister makes a conscious effort to break out of familiar thought patterns—sometimes by trying to make illogical connections. “It can be helpful to think about an idea from a point of view that makes no sense whatsoever,” Sagmeister says. He proceeded to demonstrate how this works: “Say I have to design a new ceiling light. And so now I look around and the first thing I see is a fish.” (Sagmeister has a fish mounted on the wall in his office.) “So now the idea is, think of that ceiling light from a fish point of view.” Sagmeister then proceeded to work through this connection between “fish” and “light” until he ended up with an offbeat, original idea for a ceiling light with super-thin, heat sensitive scales—which would create a silverfish-like effect of movement toward the light whenever it was turned on. (Sagmeister wrote the idea down and saved it; don’t be surprised if it you see it someday at a high-end design store.)
This approach of trying to view challenges from unusual angles can be effective because “it gets you looking in the opposite direction from everyone else,” says Tom Monahan, whose Providence-based creative coaching firm, Before & After
, teaches designers and marketing executives to think more creatively. Monahan uses an exercise known as “180-degree thinking” in which people start out trying to conceive of something that would have the opposite effect of what they’re actually trying to create—such as a car that is unable to move or an oven that doesn’t cook. “You start out making something badly, and then see if you can make that bad thing into something good,” Monahan says. “Along the way, you may happen upon some unusual ideas and connections.”
No related posts, but check around GlimmerSite for lots of other interesting articles.