Forced Connections

A s powerful as the traditional brainstorming is, it has a drawback: All the participants have a common understanding, a collective mind frame that traps them equally in the same box or comfort zone. They all think about the problem in the common terms, and as a result, the normal process of associations eventually becomes unproductive. This is when you need to switch to another Power Thinking technique: Forced Connections.
Forced connections are based on the brain’s ability to link two disparate items -such as words, objects , feelings, and ideas- and then use the new language generated by the linkages to think through the problem. It is called Forced Connections because it relies on random external triggers that force people to make a connection between the problem at hand and the trigger. These triggers cause people to broaden their perspective.
Triggers such as whimsical items (cards, toys, photos, etc.) might help to generate ideas by forcing an association between whatever objects they have chosen and the problem or situation they are working on. In this way an object introduces a new universe of potential cues from which to associate, spawning ideas that were not in the table before. Like brainstorming, forced connections are particularly useful when your group is blocked while trying to generate new ideas or to solve problems. In these circumstances it is usually imperative to introduce external triggers to get people thinking in new ways.
There are several variations on the forced connection exercise. For example, you can hold a meeting with a bag filled with whimsical objects; or you can ask each participant in Round-robin fashion randomly to name an object; Don;t begin the connection process yet, simply write all objects down on an easel in front of the audience. Once everyone has named an object, repeat the round-robin, asking everyone to begin making connections and associations between the objects and the problem. Record the connections on the easel for all to see. If you want you can then ask for a second round of objects and repeat the process. This often adds a deeper level to the ideas generated. These variations will also increase the range of ideas on the problem solving table:
• Project a variety of pictures or photos on a screen or overhead projector.
• Ask each person to bring in an object.
• Open a dictionary to any page and pick out a word.
Implementing Forced Connections
1) Begin collecting items for your own idea bag. Go exploring in thrift stores, discount outlets, $0.99 stores, drugstores, and toy stores. Mail-order catalogs are another source of fun items. Emphasize amusing or weird objects that will surprise people and take them out of their usual frame of reference.
2) Conduct a forced connection meeting with people in your department or field to test out the power of this strategy for you. Place an easel in the room and write at the top of a clean page.
3) Write down a phrase that identifies a creative opportunity to a problem you face. Perhaps it is a new product or a process you would like to improve. Then randomly select objects from your idea bag or as provided by the participants, or use the dictionary to start the connection process. The more unrelated the are to the creative opportunity, the better. As you examine each object, imagine how it connects to your creative opportunity. For instance, if you pulled a plastic lion out of the bag, think of how a lion could help your project -literally and figuratively. Associate freely from what the lion symbolizes to each participant. Allow people to brainstorm without any judgement or criticism; you never know where an idea might lead. By the end of the session you are likely to have a list of new ideas for your project.

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