Mary Rose Cook's notebook

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Generating ideas at Apple

There are several techniques for stimulating lateral thought. One technique we used frequently at Apple was called Random Entry. I worked closely with a designer who leaned on it very heavily. Using this technique, I generated at least a dozen patents.

Here’s how it works: You start with a well-defined problem statement. Then, choose a random word; de Bono provides a table of words that you can traverse by rolling dice multiple times. Then spend the next three minutes coming up as many ideas as possible that associate that word with the problem statement. Discuss the ideas amongst your team, building on them where they stimulate deeper discussion. Then pick a new word and start again. This exercise generates a tremendous number of ideas that you likely would not have thought of if you were not trying to use lateral thinking techniques.

To give you an example, let’s say your problem statement is to come up with a new video editing app for the phone. Now, let’s say you pull the word “bicycle.” Think of some things you can do for editing video that you could tie to the word bicycle.

When I tried this exercise, here are just a few ideas I came up with:

An app that overlays iPhone sensor information over live video

A feature to automatically detect your bike tricks and post them to Vine

A “travel-by-map” montage, that uses known bike routes

An 80’s BMX effect pack for iMovie.

The goal here is to free associate. While brainstorming these ideas, I wasn’t thinking about which ideas were the most practical or feasible. That step comes later in the process. I just wrote down what comes to mind.”

De Bono's list