Creativity is a skill and it can be developed

To develop the skill of being creative, you need to think in three ways.

    • Divergent thinking. Exploring lots of possibilities. Generating ideas that are novel, new, ridiculous, foolish-sounding, weird, goofy, exciting.
    • Combinent thinking. Combine ideas across areas of knowledge. Connect ideas that seem to be unrelated to the problem you are working on to generate novel ideas.
    • Convergent thinking. Most of us are pretty good at this. Select ideas, sort ideas, test and refine ideas. Make those ridiculous, foolish-sounding, exciting ideas USEFUL.

Most of us recognize divergent thinking and convergent thinking.  But combinent thinking is the ::insert announcer voice here:: creativity super skill.   

Most breakthroughs come by connecting things that are not usually considered connected. That’s combinent thinking. Often these connections occur as if by chance. 

You are working on a tough problem, you are stymied for a solution, so you step back from the problem. You see something unrelated to your problem and you make a connection. Unfortunately, you had to wait to make that connection.

What if you could make those connections on demand?

One surefire way to get new ideas is by using Forced Connections. Forced Connections is an idea generating technique that captures the essence of creativity; the practice of combining ideas that don’t appear to be related in a new way. This method helps you get those ideas flowing when you are stuck.

How it works:

    • Consider the problem you are trying to solve.
    • Pick an object or situation from a completely unrelated area.
    • Find or “force” a connection between the problem you are working on and the seemingly unrelated object.

The result of this new connection is a new idea.

In my creativity programs, we always do a warm-up exercise before we take on the main challenge. One of my favorite warm-ups is to generate ideas for the perfect bathtub.

After a few minutes, the group starts to slow down. They have generated the typical ideas for improving a bathtub. But, now they are stuck. It is time to introduce Forced Connections.  I like to use pictures. 

First picture. “What ideas do you get for improving a bathtub from a bunch of bananas?” I get ideas like: make it non-slip, make it yellow, shape the tub to fit your body, and my favorite—have a bunch of my friends over.

Another picture: an airplane cockpit. This picture generates ideas like: temperature controls for the tub, lots of windows around the tub, seats in the tub and, of course, make the tub fly.

You don’t need pictures to have this technique work for you. All you need to do is look around. I am sitting at my desk while I am writing this. So, if I were working on a challenge and got stuck, I would ask myself—what ideas do I get from my telephone or books on my bookcase or the fan on my desk or trees in my backyard?

With Forced Connections, the ideas you get may not be the breakthrough answers you are looking for, but it energizes the idea generating process to produce more ideas to choose from.

Dr. Roger Firestien has taught more people to lead the creative process than anyone else in the world. Roger is senior faculty at the Center for Applied Imagination at SUNY Buffalo State and president of Innovation Resources, Inc. He has written six books on innovation. His latest book, Create in A Flash:  A leader’s recipe for breakthrough innovation is available through Amazon or at

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