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One of the keys to creating new ideas is to have frameworks, methods, workflows rather than relying on pure brainstorming or waiting for inspiration to hit. Of the many tools, apps and techniques to aid brainstorming, Gamestorming, by Dave Grey, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo has been my primary go-to resource for the past couple of years.

For new product concepting, the Heuristic Ideation Technique is a quick method for generating a range of new, potentially off-the-wall, ideas. While many of the concepts generated would never yield plausible products, it’s better to start with a broad array of ideas that might spur an idea that is both innovative and workable, than to think too narrowly and get poor ideas. In the Heuristic Ideation Technique participants use a simple matrix to compare seemingly unrelated concepts. For example, by arbitrarily combining the flavor characteristics of certain foods such as sweet and savory, with different food formats such as soup or bread, a chef might create a new category of dessert. The effectiveness of this technique is in part due to the creative sparks that are generated when we see two (or more) unconnected things next to each other and ask, “what would happen if you combined x with y.

Expanding on this idea for inventing new products, I have been very interested in compiling lists from which I can create category matrixes. For example if I was trying to create a new application for consuming personalized content in the morning, I might start with list of morning activities:

Ways to start the day
Light exercise
Helping others

Then another list of broad information categories: 

Information we seek daily
What to eat for meal

This initial pass does not have to lead to specific app ideas, but instead might lead to use-cases that will get me closer to pain-points such how to get my kids eating a healhier breakfast or how to make exercising more habitual. Let’s take the first couple of examples from each list and explore app ideas.

Inspiration Seeking + News:
1. A socially curated list of inspirational news, delivered every day at 9am
2. A list of 3 daily inspiration quotes that are up voted and shared across timezones.
3. Stories of success in an individual’s chosen/aspirational profession in an interview format. (How to make it as a chef, designer, teacher, etc.)
4. An app that strips away the bad/scary news from the hometown newspaper in order to protect children from information they shouldn’t see.
5. An alarm clock app that plays customized/curated inspirational stories but cuts out at the critical moment of the story until it detects the person is walking around and awake.

Light exercise + Sports
1. Workout regimen based on your teams’ performance.
2. Exercise program designed by your favorite athlete.
3. Exercises based on motions of your favorite sport.
4. Wake up/workout routine based on fantasy sports team.
5. Social network competition for completing x-number of exercises in the am.

So, I’ve come up with 10 app ideas on my own in about 2 minutes,  just by combining two sets of variables. Granted, these are pretty simple and not particularly inspired concepts, but if taken further and with a little more time and refinement,  there is the kernel of an interesting idea or two (particularly the alarm clock idea).  So often we’re put in brainstorm sessions without materials that could support new thinking. Making or utilizing pre-made lists of attributes is a great catalyst for divergent thinking.