Helping people to think differently

Random Word

This is a set of random words. These words can help to stimulate your thinking into new areas.

Overview

The random word technique takes a word (often a noun with some evocative associations) and then generates a list of everything you know about that word. This list is then used as a stimulus for ideas.

Before you even think about your problem, choose a random word by clicking the button below, and on a large piece of paper list as quickly as possible (and without editing) associated words, no matter how tenuous or daft the association might be.

Get a word

Click on the button for a random word - click again for a different one.

For example:

Let us assume we have chosen the word elephant.

Trunk, ears, custard (remember the joke about why do elephants have yellow soles to their feet??), mouse, Dumbo, circus, herds, peanuts, stately, tiny eyes.

This example is about someone who wants to make a change in their life as a whole, but can be applied to specific problems. Random words to help you come up with ways to make change happen. Again, don’t edit however daft the idea is. That comes later. Which might lead to:

I want the quality of adventure more in my life and I will get it by joining the circus, learning the trapeze, canoeing through shark infested custard, reading the small adventure ads in papers with tiny, squinty eyes, go potholing like a mouse, pack a trunk and head off round the world, ask the next ten people I meet what I could do and listen to their answers with big elephant ears and promise myself to act on one of them, be prepared to live on peanuts to make what I want happen, find ways of living in a stately home, learn animation techniques and make a film ......

........and on and on and on and on.

Whatever your list is, go back over it and choose any of those that feel they might go somewhere, not because they are logical or sensible, but because something somewhere in you was stirred by, say, the notion of packing a trunk and heading off round the world. From here, you could develop the idea. Don’t try to get back into focused thinking too quickly with the idea or the freshness and lack of preconceived ideas can be lost. Give it time to blossom.

Association to ideas

Many techniques require you to make associations with something and then relate these associations back to the problem or requirement.

In some ways this is the hardest part of the creativity process, although even this isn’t as hard as some would have you believe. This is the point where you take a mechanical technique and apply genuine creativity to it. This aspect of the process is highly dependent on experience. The more you do it, the easier it will become. So try it out, even if you don't have a specific problem to solve. This is particularly important when you are new to the field of creativity.

Let us assume that you are trying to develop a new confectionery product and that you have used a creativity technique that has generated the following associations:

Whiskers, collar, fur, fleas, paws, hunter, after dark, mice, killer, cuddly, fun, warm, friendly, aloof, independent, lazy, active, angry, spitting, hissing, claws, teeth

In case it isn’t obvious we used the Random word technique with the word cat. With product development more than with most problem solving or idea generation you have the option of inserting an intermediate phase into the translation process from the association to the idea. This is to describe your non-existent product in terms of the association. In this case we are looking for “The confectionery” or “The confectionery with ”. For instance:

  • The cuddly confectionery
  • The killer confectionery
  • The furry confectionery
  • The confectionery with whiskers
  • The active confectionery
Sometimes reading such a list immediate ideas will pop into your mind as to what this phrase might mean. The second stage is to write a more detailed description of this. For instance, “The confectionery with whiskers” rather oddly made us think of old aged confectionery. This made us think of more mature confectionery. We saw this going in two directions, either confectionery for the more mature palette or confectionery that is matured for a fuller flavour.

On reading that through you may have seen some ideas of your own. You may have thought that the ideas we have generated are not all that great. That doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the process is clear. This two-stage process can be used wherever you can describe the problem in terms of a sentence in which you can insert a range of words.

Where this is not the case you must move more directly from the association words to ideas. To show an example of this let’s assume that we have the same words as above but that we are trying to solve the problem of poor attendance in a factory. This is harder to create sentences for so we must move more directly.

Looking at the list, killer made us think of killing off poor attendees. Not immediately practical but this could be developed as an idea where an attendance monitoring scheme is implemented that ultimately results in the dismissal of those with poor attendance records. Collar made us think of control and this led to the idea of high levels of follow up and checking of attendance problems – talking to everyone after they have missed a day and finding out why, insisting on doctors notes etc. Fun made us think of making the workplace more fun so that people don’t feel the need to stay away. Independent made us think of making small groups of staff responsible for their own results regardless of attendance. You can see how this works. These ideas are half baked. This is always true at this stage of the process. Treat them like tender green shoots that need love and attention. If you trample on them too early in their lives (by evaluating them) you will kill them.

Other sources of words

The random word technique generates a list of words suitable for inserting into intermediate sentences. Other ways of generating words could be:

  • to look at a picture and list everything you see
  • flick through a magazine and list everything you see
  • look around you and list everything you see
  • find something that you can talk passionately about and list the words you use
  • email all of your friends and ask them to send you their ten favourite words
  • hold a creativity session and generate ideas about where to get words from.