Forced Connections - The Sure Fire Way to Get Breakthrough Ideas

The sure-fire way to get new ideas is by using Forced Connections. Forced Connections is the essence of creativity; the practice of combining ideas that don’t appear to be related in a new way. This method helps you get those ideas flowing when you are stuck.

When I am teaching people to be creative, I tell them to use this method. It will save them hundreds of dollars they would spend on books designed to help them think outside of the box. Why? Most techniques in those books are based on this simple method.

How it works:

  • Consider the problem you are trying to solve.
  • Pick an object or situation from a completely unrelated area.
  • Find or force a connection between the problem you are working on and the seemingly unrelated object.

The result of this new connection is a New Idea.

In my creativity training programs, we always do a warm-up exercise before we take on the main challenge. One of my favorite warm-ups is the creativity classic: generate ideas for the perfect bathtub. Of course I go over the divergent ground rules first: defer judgment, strive for quantity, seek wild and unusual ideas, and combine and build on ideas. Then, the group starts generating ideas for the perfect tub. After a few minutes, the group starts to slow down. They have generated the usual/typical ideas for improving a bathtub. But, they are stuck and their ideas have dried up. It is time to introduce Forced Connections by showing the group some pictures or unrelated items.

“What ideas do you get for improving a bathtub from a bunch of bananas?” I get ideas like: make it non-slip, make it yellow, put a soft bottom in the tub, shape the tub to fit your body, and my favorite—have a bunch of my friends over.

I show them another picture: an airplane cockpit. This picture generates ideas like: put in temperature controls for the tub, put lots of windows around the tub, put seats in the tub and of course make the tub fly.

One more picture to complete the exercise: a photo of a beautiful beach. The group generates ideas such as: put salt water in the tub, serve cocktails in the tub, have a tub for two, have soothing sounds like the sound of the ocean, and have a tub outside.

You don’t need pictures to have this technique work for you. All you need to do is look around. I am sitting at my desk while I am writing this. So, if I were working on a challenge and got stuck, I would ask myself—what ideas do I get from my telephone or the books on my bookcase or the fan on my desk or the trees in my back yard or my model rocket that I built when I was twelve?

With Forced Connections, the ideas you get may not be the breakthrough answers you are looking for, but you will have more ideas to choose from. Research shows, with creative breakthroughs, the more ideas you have to choose from the greater the chance of getting a good idea. Try it. You will be pleased with the results.

Roger Firestien, Ph.D.

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