By Costa Michailidis
Update (July 2013): Since we’ve put this list up, some of these ideas have become quite real, others, we’ve discovered, have been around for quite some time. Keep the ideas flowing : )
- Self-cleaning Cloths.
- Haircuts that have utility.
- A dog training service that trains your dog to do useful things, perhaps even income generating things.
- Garbage cans that recycle trash.
- Crowdsourced education.
- Using devices (smartphones, laptops, etc) as wireless routers. Imagine every device boosted the wifi signal.
- Shoes that clean the ground.
- Grounds that clean your shoes.
- Toys that build character.
- An alarm clock that simulates the sunrise and sounds of nature to wake you up.
- A smart phone that brews your coffee just before your alarm goes off.
- An app for phones to control your TV remotely.
- A “home” app that connects all of your house’s appliances to the cloud.
- A bedtime stories database sortable by what type of difficulties your child is having.
- An app that scans text from paper onto a screen.
- Retractable packaging - a serivce that sends packaging back to the seller for reuse.
- Lightning-powered pants.
- Lightning-powered power plants.
- Pants that heat up or cool down depending on the weather.
- Clothing that heats up as you move.
- Paint that changes hue when hit by sound waves.
- GPS for pets. No-more missing cat flyers.
- Laws that prevent the above technology from being used on people.
- Sailing on top of the atmosphere the way ships sail on top of the sea.
- Using one of those atmosphere sailboats to attach the elevator to space.
- Attaching an expiration date to money.
- Having a presidential debate with instant audience approval ratings.
- A series of tech educational videos for old folks.
- Social skills curriculm at schools.
- Teaching creativity at school.
- Toys that teach creativity at home.
- Video games that teach social skills.
- Remote controlled snorkeling robots.
- Underwater Greenhousing for Coral Reefs.
- Underwater farming.
- Indoor farming.
- Dolls of role model women: Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton, Melinda Gates, Gaby Douglas.
- A counter for how many times Google searching has settled an argument.
- Sorting your email by who sent it to you instead of by date.
- Voice command emailing.
- A sink that doubles as a dish washer.
- Have the stearing wheel vibrate when you’re too close to the car behind you, instead of that annoying beeping sound.
- Hats with solar panels. No more dead cell phones.
- Refabricate pay phones as public outlets. No more dead cell phones.
- A totally customizable all-in-one healthy habits points system that’s enforceable.
- GPS tracker for expensive jewelery, so that when it gets stollen you can tell the cops where to look for it.
- A school that farmed some of it’s own food locally so that students could learn about farming, and systems in general in a hands-on way, maybe it could sell some of that food during harvest season as well.
- Word-of-the-day unlock screens for smartphones.
- To-do list on the unlock screen for smartphones.
- Starbucks set up at busy intersections right up along the street like a drive-through.
- Flash Mobs that do something useful.
- Cable car systems for traffic-dense cities.
- A mobile dating app with augmented reality personal ads/profiles.
- Planes that are remotely piloted from the ground so they can’t be hijacked.
- TED Talks from historical figures (such as: Abraham Lincoln, Aristotle, Cleopatra) written by historians and delivered by actors.
- A bracelet that measures your vitals and stores them in your own personal health database.
- An app that calculates the nutritional value of your food when you take a picture of it.
- Using trees to boost WiFi signals.
- Using cars to boost WiFi signals.
- Offer drivers in big cities a tax deduction for mounting a WiFi device onto their cars. The device is powered by the car, and the more cars adopt a device the better the city’s WiFi.
- An app that told you if someone near you went to your high school or college, or had something else in common with you.
- An app that gave live stats on parties.
- Massive Multiplayer Online Games that have a productive output or side effect.
- A spoof of drug commercials to educate kids on the dangers of drug abuse.
- Pockets that clean your smartphone screen.
- Smart outlets, that know how much voltage and amperge is optimal for the device that’s plugged in.
- Cars with multiple energy systems. Solar Panels, Batteries, a combustion engine, breaks that absorb energy.
- Cars that pull electricity from the road.
- GPS on public transporation so that we have live updates on when trains and buses will arrive.
- Packaging that decomposes into fertalizer.
- Self-sorting Trash.
- A dating site for old folks.
- A vacation website where you can search by feeling. For example: relaxation, excitement, laughter, peace.
- Do-it-yourself cell phone repair kit.
- The personification of smartphones. Name your device, let it decide things like which restaurant to go to, have it friend other smartphones on Facebook, dress it up for Halloween.
- Replace text emails with video messages.
- Napster for university lectures.
- Contests where the prize is a job at Google or IBM.
- Cell phone screens that double as solar panels.
- Order business cards directly from Linkedin.
- A web app that let’s you watch TV shows or movies with friends while you’re not in-person.
- Cup holder that keeps your coffee hot.
- Building material that sweats to cool the building down.
- A bar that only people going out alone are allowed into.
- A website where movie fans can request sequels and contribute ideas for the screenplay.
- A video game that helps you succeed in your career.
- A career exchange program. You mentor someone who’s looking to get into your field, and someone from the field you want to get into mentors you.
- A browser plugin that puts old bookmarks along side search results, so that you can be reminded of the things you bookmarked when you search with similar keywords.
- Touch screens for laptops.
- A marketplace that connects bazzars in developing countries with buyers in developed countries.
- An online platform that helps people crowdsource the completion of small tasks rather than donations.
- Doubling your headphones as earmuffs in the winter.
- Combining geothermal energy principles with the heat differential required to run a sterling engine. This could generate electricity in the winter, especially when it snows.
- A feature that allows you to follow, friend, and share contact info with someone by bumping phones.
- Computer Viruses that attack other computer viruses.
- A waterpark built at the beach.
- A remote controlled droid for safari adventures. Look out for that Lion! (You break it, you buy it)
- Flip-chart-sized paper airplanes.
- Bacteria-resistant money.
- A Doomsday Kit that held the information needed to restart civilization if we had a near extinction event.
Insights in Idea Generation
Most often when we start to come up with ideas to solve a problem, whether we’re alone or collaborating with a group, we evaluate the ideas as they come up. Consequently we stop at the first good idea. A better way is to defer evaluation, and just list out ideas, hundreds of ideas! Amongst many ideas there will be some real gems. Also, what’s typical during idea generation is for people to think of the typical ideas first and for novelty to emerge later in the process. Next time you’re faced with a challenge that requires some imagination to solve, try generating a hundred ideas for how to solve it.
Lastly, some of the crazy ideas above are real in some form or another, can you guess which ones?
Thinking About Your Strategic Creative Thinking
By Amy Frazier
A recent Forbes.com article by Holly Green highlighted the role of strategic thinking in effective leadership. Referencing the mad pace of business, she asserted that leaders need to move beyond depending upon what she called “critical” and “implementation” thinking types, to embrace three additional thinking types: “conceptual,” “innovative” and “intuitive.” Green placed these five types together under the larger umbrella of strategic thinking. (The reference in the title of the article to “Five Critical Thinking Types” is misleading; “Five Strategic Thinking Types” is a more accurate description of her theme.)
While there’s some murkiness around her usage of “type” and “skill,” in her article Green does two significant things: she asks leaders to think about their thinking, and, building upon this, she draws awareness to the fact that different types of thinking are called for in different situations. Both of these are valuable propositions.
We can take her recommendations further, however, by offering leaders a deliberate process for applying these two concepts of “thinking about your thinking,” and using different thinking skills while you do.
The most recent adaptation of the classic model for applied creativity, Creative Problem Solving (CPS) does just this. The aptly-named “Thinking Skills Model” uses an approach similar to what Green proposed, but has the advantage of being more explicitly incorporated into the creative thinking process from beginning to end – in Green’s terms from “visualizing” to “implementation.” Drawing upon its CPS lineage, it is also supported by decades of research into the benefits of applied creative thinking.
The Thinking Skills Model (TSM) identifies key cognitive skills which come into play throughout the creative thinking process. They are: diagnostic, visionary, strategic, ideational, evaluative, contextual, and tactical thinking.
Green’s list of thinking types, again, is: critical, implementation, conceptual, innovative, and intuitive.
Of course there are some similarities and differences, and in a longer analysis we would line these up in a straight-on comparison to explore the overlaps and gaps between the two. For the time being, suffice it to say that Green’s on to something when she says “knowing when and how much to utilize each (type) is the hallmark of great leaders.” By aligning different thinking skills to different phases of the creative process, the Thinking Skills Model gives leaders a framework for being able to do this. The result is more effective thinking in complex, open-ended situations such as Green describes.
Effective creative thinking is at the heart of what Green advocates. Yet it’s interesting to note that the words “creative” and “creativity” are nowhere to be seen in her article. This may have been a deliberate choice, in order to avoid the fuzziness often associated with the “c” word, especially in business settings. Using deliberate processes like Creative Problem Solving doesn’t make things fuzzier, however. In fact, it does quite the opposite: it clarifies and strengthens our thinking, especially in these complex and open-ended situations, when we need our creative thinking the most.
Wed Evening, 6:55pm…
“It has been so long,” I say.
“Yes it has,” Izaz replies.
Izaz and I were returning to AIESEC as alumni to train new members in sales and innovation respectively. AIESEC was many years ago, but the vibe in the room filled our nostalgic hearts. AIESEC is a global internship exchange organization that was founded after World War II with the mission of creating cultural understanding. In 1948 the first exchanges took place, even between France and Germany.
“Joseph!” Izaz and I both say to our old friend as he walks into the seminar hall.
“Oh wow, it’s been so long,” he says and gives us both a hug and a handshake.
The organization continues to develop leaders and promote exchange today (2011). Joseph, Izaz and I had the pleasure of being part of that legacy, and the honor of passing our knowledge on to the new member of AIESEC at Baruch College.
Twenty minutes later…
“Ooo, Tweet ‘Go Abroad’ in different languages!”
“Post fliers in the halls.”
“Post fliers in classrooms.”
“Oh! Do country-specific dances, but spontaneously like flash mobs.”
I’m facilitating a training session for the AIESEC members on Creative Thinking. The group has been tasked with generating ideas on how they might market their internship exchange programs. I’m impressed at how quickly they generate and build on one another’s ideas. My young participants are quickly catching on to the guidelines and techniques I’ve given them. They’re blazing through their simulation.
At some point their momentum slows and the group comes to a pause.
“Hmm…what would Obama do?” I prompt.
“Oh! Speeches!” one girl yells.
“From members who return from exchange,” another adds.
They quickly ramp back up to full speed, and within the twenty minute simulation they generate a hundred ideas! The ideas are diverse, a good amount are novel, and quite a few are very elaborate. The members explain to me that they normally generate less ideas, and not often with this much originality.
AIESEC is an amazing organization that is creating valuable social change around the world. As technology changes and as HR departments acclimate to a global market for talent, AIESEC, as an international exchange organization, will face tremendous challenges. Innovation is the key to surviving and furthermore establishing thought leadership for AIESEC, and for many other social enterprises and organizations.
“What if we held our advisory board meeting in the warehouse?” I suggest.
“No,” Paul says.
“Well, hear me out. It is a large enough space to fit everyone comfortably. It would fit within our budget for the meeting, it would give board members a chance tour the plant, and we could set up the warehouse floor with comfortable table and chairs, flipcharts and a projector.”
“Look, there’s too much liability, not everyone on the advisory board is interested in touring the plant, it’s going to be too hard to organize, and we’ve never done that before,” he interrupts and shoots down my idea.
Our advisory board is meeting for a business strategy review, our office has no conference room, and we are working within a tight budget. We would normally host the meeting at the CEO’s summer cottage in the stately dining room, but that option isn’t available this year.
“We can always hold it at the Holiday Inn near the airport,” Alex suggests.
“That’s a decent plan B,” Paul says.
The weeks go by and we eventually settle on Paul’s Plan B because we have no Plan A. Meetings were always like that. Someone would put forth an idea, and Paul would judge it within seconds, and it left all of us either discouraged or defensive. After enough meetings, this process (generate idea, judge it, generate another idea, judge it….) was internalized. I’d come up with an idea and judge it in my mind, without ever sharing it with someone else. Things were different with Alyssa.
“Hey, what if we held our meeting in the warehouse?” I suggest.
“Hm…I bet people would find the change of scenery stimulating,” Alyssa replies.
“Yeah, and we could finally get everyone out to the plant for a guided walkthrough. Maybe the plant manager could give the tour,” Alex suggests.
“There’s no A/V setup in the warehouse. And no whiteboards. It’s not going to work,” Paul says.
“Well, we can overcome that. We could just use a portable flipchart and bring a projector in just like at the summer cottage.” Alyssa says.
Alyssa’s way of nurturing ideas brought our creativity to life. Even Paul’s criticism was used to improve and strengthen the idea. Alyssa had a patience and positivity that allowed ideas to flourish.
We’ve All Been There
We are excited by an idea we’ve come up with. Then we share it with a colleague or supervisor and they shoot it down without a second thought. They run off five or six reasons why it’s too ambitious, or too difficult, or too weird. We react either by becoming defensive (in which case we reject feedback entirely) or by letting the criticism discourage us and we drop the idea all together.
The Most Common Mistake
The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to generate ideas and evaluate them at the same time. Ideas are not born fully formed. Fledgling ideas must be nurtured into powerful solutions. When we strike down ideas immediately, we aren’t giving these ideas a chance to change or grow; we are, in fact, killing baby ideas.
What happens when we kill baby ideas?
We settle for an idea that’s good enough and go with it. We miss out on all the novelty necessary for real creative solutions and settle for the same old stale outcomes.
To Generate Novel Solutions divide your thinking into two separate stages. First, dedicate time to divergence - think creatively and generate many ideas. When you have enough options pause and begin thinking critically. Evaluate multiple ideas and converge on a single solution. It is best to follow the following guidelines for divergent and convergent thinking.
Guidelines for Divergent Thinking
- Defer Judgement
- Go for Quantity
- Go for Novelty
- Build on Ideas
Guidelines for Convergent Thinking
- Use Affirmative Judgement
- Improve Ideas
- Retain Novelty
- Be Deliberate in Criticism