Sometimes the ideas just don’t come when you need them to. Maybe the random input technique is for you.

There’s a myth that ideas just “come to you” or that somehow creative inspiration is some product of divine intervention. Certainly, when you feel like all your creative cylinders are firing, doing great work and coming up with new ideas is a breeze.

The flip side of feeling endlessly inspired, however, is having a creative block where no ideas come to you at all; or where all your ideas seem awful and not worth pursuing.

When this happens, sometimes we need to force ourselves to be creative. Today, we learned of a technique that uses random inputs to help you generate new ideas.

Random Input Technique

The Random Input Technique is a simple creativity technique that is often associated with Edward de Bono, the father of lateral thinking. 

The random input technique is a lateral thinking tool that involves picking a random word (usually a noun) or an image and following its associations until you find new ideas that can be applied to your problem.

For random inputs to work, you’ll need a well-defined problem or, a “focus”.

For example, a new pet store needs you to design a logo for them but they don’t want to use paws or whiskers because every other pet store in town has paws and whiskers in their logo. You need a new and original idea for a pet store logo. You can try using the random input technique to come up with a new idea.

The second part is the “provocation,” or a random input.

For this example, I opened a dictionary to a random page and I picked a random word on that page. The word is “ottoman.” I’ll then use all the associations I can think of to the word “ottoman” to arrive at an idea that I can apply to the focus.

The goal isn’t to connect “ottoman” directly to a new pet store logo but rather to use “ottoman” as a stimulus to get us thinking in a new pattern about the problem.

It might go something like this:

“Ottoman” is a fancy word for a footstool. Pets sometimes climb on furniture. Maybe a logo with a pet on a footstool?

Moving on…

“Ottoman” is also associated with the Ottoman Empire which was once the greatest and largest empire in the world. It was ruled by kings. The king of the jungle is the Lion. How about a logo where a pet is portrayed as the king? A pet wearing a crown?

If not a crown, then maybe we can come up with another symbol to show how the significance or importance of a pet. A pet is often an important part of a family. Maybe we can find a way to design a logo that emphasizes a pet’s place in a family. A simple, stylized logo that shows a pet at the center of group of humans?

We went from the word “ottoman” to a pet being an important part of a family. We’ve just come up with a concrete direction for a new logo design.

[Note: This was done in real time. I really did open a dictionary and found the word ottoman.]

How did that happen? How did we get from “ottoman” to designing a logo that emphasizes the importance of a pet to a family?

Edward de Bono explains,

By definition, a random word is unconnected to any subject and so any word would work for any subject. In a passive information system, this would be total nonsense. But in an active (patterning) system, the random word provides a new entry point. As we work back from the new entry point, we increase the chances of using patterns we would never have used if we had worked outward from the subject area.”

Read more about Edward de Bono’s work here.

Final Thoughts

The key to the random input technique is not to try to directly connect the random word to your problem, but rather, to use the random word as a tool to get your brain thinking around the problem. By giving ourselves an unrelated thing/object to associate with our creative problem, we give ourselves new opportunities to find solutions through a different pattern of thinking.

Often, a creative block can feel like beating a dead horse. The ideas we keep coming up with can feel ineffective or “stupid” or “dumb.” When this happens, try the random input technique to get around your creative block.

Share your own favorite creativity techniques with us in the comments below.


Isaac is the Co-Founder and Chief Editor of Design Instruct. He has experience in various design and art related fields including design, illustration, and photography. He's in charge of making sure that Design Instruct publishes high quality content that professional designers and digital artists demand and expect. Get in touch via email and on Twitter as @designinstruct or @IAMTHEGUBE.