combine ideas


Look at the figure below.combo1

When the lines at the left are combined to form the figure on the right, we can no longer perceive the original two patterns without great effort. Instead, we see a continuous wavy line running through a series of bars. Combining the lines creates a new pattern with new properties. The illustration verifies the seemingly obvious point that from a combination can emerge new properties that were not evident in either of the original lines.

It is the same with concepts and ideas. Gregory Murphy of the University of Illinois had people rate how true certain properties were of individual concepts and their combinations. One set of concepts consisted of the individual words “empty” and “store” and their combination “empty store.” Consider the property “losing money.” Like subjects in Murphy’s study, you probably recognize that losing money is typical of “empty stores,” but not of “stores” in general or of things that are “empty.”  Meaning changes when we combine concepts, and the more novel the combination, the more novel the new meaning. This is why genius is often marked by an interest in combining previously unrelated ideas, goods and services, making novel combinations more likely. Following is one technique of many that demonstrates how easy it is get ideas using combinations.

RANDOM OBJECTS. Select 20 objects at random. You can select any objects, objects at home, objects at work, or objects you might find walking down the street. Or you can imagine you are in a technologically-oriented science museum, walking through the Smithsonian Institute, or browsing in an electronic store and make a list of 20 objects that you would likely see. Make two lists of 10 objects each on the left and right sides of the paper (See example below). Pick one from the left and combine it with one on the right. When you find a promising new combination, refine and elaborate it into a new invention.combo2

In the example, the illustrated combinations yielded the following ideas:

∙         Combining bagel with slicer yields a bagel slicer with plastic sides designed to hold the bagel and prevent rotation when slicing.

∙         Bathtub and hammock combines into a baby tub with a simple hammock in the  tub with a headrest to hold the baby’s head securely, leaving the parent’s hands free to do the washing.

∙         Sunglasses and windows combine to form the idea of tinted house windows,  like tinted sunglasses,  designed to change colors with ultraviolet light to help keep the house cool.

∙         Suntan lotion and insect repellent combines to form a new product— one lotion that protects against both the sun and insects.

You can also try the inverse heuristic to generate ideas, which states that if an object performs one function, a new artifact might be realized by combining it with an object that performs the opposite function. The claw hammer is a good example. So is a pencil with an eraser. Can you create new objects from the list of random objects by combining the object with something that performs the opposite function. How about a small cap for tightly sealing a soda can that could be attached to the lever of the pop-top device?


Review my book CRACKING CREATIVITY at amazon and discover a treasure trove of creative thinking techniques that will help you get the ideas you need to improve your personal and business lives.


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