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Random Words


Creative tools > Random Words

When to use it | How to use it | Example | How it works | See also


When to use it

Use it to stimulate open and divergent thinking and seek creative new ideas.

Use it to re-ignite creative thinking when you are running out of ideas.

Use it to get people out of a rut when their thinking is still rather conventional.



X          Long



        X  Psychological



      X    Group


How to use it

1. Find a random word

Find a random word that will be used as a stimulus for new ideas. You can do this in a number of ways, including:

  • Look around you. What can you see? Can you see any words? What about things? What else is happening?
  • Open a book at a random page. Run your finger around the page and stop at a random point. Look for a suitable word near your finger.
  • Ask the people you are with to give you a random word.
  • Select a word from a prepared list of evocative words (fire, child, brick, sausage, etc.)

Good random words are (a) evocative and (b) nothing to do with the problem being considered. Ambiguity also helps. Nouns are usually best, but verbs and adjectives can also be used effectively.

2. Find associations

Think about other things about which the word reminds you. Follow associations to see where they go. Think openly: associations can be vague and tenuous (this is creativity, not an exam!).

When working with a group of people, you can write these down on a flipchart as people call them out. It can be useful (but not necessary) to leave a space after each associate for use in stage 3.

3. Use the associations to create new ideas

Now create new ideas by linking any of the associations with your problem. Again, the linkage can be as vague as you like: what you want is ideas!

Write the ideas either next to their associations from step 2 or on a separate page.

If other people give ideas that trigger further ideas from you, then you can go off down that route to see where it goes.

As a variant, you can do stages 2 and 3 together, finding an association and an immediate idea from this.


I am seeking a way to reduce discomfort for passengers on trains.

With a group of passengers, we look out of the window and see a school.

Associations from school are learning, bullying, exams, playtime.

Ideas include teaching the rail company how uncomfortable the seats are, taking a firm stance in this, giving marks for different trains and seats and having games on trains so passengers do not notice the uncomfortable seats.

How it works

Random Words works in particular by making you go elsewhere for ideas, and hence pushes you out of your current thinking rut. It uses the principle of forced association to make you think in new ways and create very different ideas.

See also

Forced association, PSI


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