Generating Ideas 5: Get Radical

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

If you are in search of radical new ideas, try a mind-stretching ideas generation tool. By making random links you will find that you can inspire some extraordinary ideas.  There are many versions of this tool but all involve creating mental links between your problem and a random object or word.  At first this may sound odd but I recommend you try it. To find out how, read on.

The method works best if you have already tried some other brainstorming techniques (see earlier blog posts in this series).  Do this because you will only be able to inspire your group to come up with the more radical ideas that you are after if you have first emptied their minds of other ideas.  When ideas are drying up, this tool will stimulate some completely new thinking.

Step by Step

Prepare – Ensure you have the right environment and creative mindset and make sure you get the preparation  right, including setting ground rules.

Brainstorm with a couple of other techniques first to empty minds of the more obvious ideas (see earlier blog posts in this series).

Calm the group with some gentle music and by showing them a series of neutral relaxing images  – this alters the tempo of your time and frees the mind.

Random words or objects – give each person a random object/ or show them a random image/or find a random word by for example by using word association and selecting the eighth word.

New images- ask the group to come up with new images in their minds, triggered by the random stimulus and write down the words they come up with.

New ideas – generate new ideas from the words that have arisen by first making vague connections between the images and the challenge and then seeing if you can make them more concrete implementable ideas.

At first this sounds odd and it is hard to conceptualise how it might work but it can give rise to some great new ideas that you would never otherwise have thought of.


In a recent Innovation Group LIVE! workshop a delegate held a sparkly pen and was asked to come up with ideas for the Olympics opening ceremony.  Before long we were seeing the Olympics open in a snow dome with glitter falling from the sky.  Whilst this is wildly impractical it could be developed into something different and stimulating for the Olympics.


At a session on my Masters course we used the technique.  The random word was ‘Club’.  The challengewas getting more staff to provide fundraising ideas.  ‘Club’ made me think of images of the Flintstones.  This led to ideas about going back to basics and also about bludgeoning ideas out of people (vague connections).  Working on making those vague connections more concrete led to an idea about everyone wearing a hat and not being able to remove it on an ideas day  before they had posted a new fundraising idea.

Have a go and post your insights on the Innovation Group discussion thread or below.

But remember, getting the ideas is just a step in the process. To find out about choosing which to focus on come to Innovation Group LIVE! Selecting the Best Ideas.

Learn more: there is a mass of information on brainstorming online.  For an engaging (but product-focused) book with lots of practical advice look at Sticky Wisdom by ?WhatIf!


Katherine William-Powlett’s blog

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