Quick Studies

How Apple Uses Random Words to Brainstorm

Using random words as inspiration can help you draw new parallels and find surprising insights.

If your team is struggling to develop new ideas or keeps hitting a mental block, try a brainstorming technique called “Random Entry” that teams at Apple have used to generate product features, as recorded by Alan Cannistrato.

“Random Entry” Brainstorming

  1. Start with a well-defined problem statement. Creativity needs boundaries, so make sure that you are focusing on a specific problem, such as “video editing is too hard, and should be more fun.”
  2. Pick a word at random, or, if you’re struggling to find one that is sufficiently unexpected, print out the list of words provided by cognitive psychologist Edward de Bono and pull one out of a hat, such as “bicycle.”
  3. Come up with as many ideas as possible that associate that word with the problem statement. Consider all the different aspects of a bicycle—color and shape, when it’s used, how it’s taught—and try to draw comparisons to your problem. Focus on the task, but keep it brief—no longer than three minutes.
  4. Discuss the ideas among your team and capture the good ones. Build on the ones that have potential. For example, by connecting “fun” and “bicycle,” Apple’s team came up with “1. Stream live video with superimposed iPhone sensor data, 2. Automatically detect bike tracks and post them to Vine, and 3. Create an 80’s BMX effect pack for iMovie.
  5. Choose another word, and repeat. After a few rounds, prioritize the most important associations and develop the ideas further outside of the meeting.


Published February 2, 2016

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