How to generate wildly unique combinations of different ideas

How to generate wildly unique combinations of different ideas
Play Armageddon Chef! An example fake game idea. Credit: Midjourney

Yesterday I shared a creative thinking tool I never leave the home without called attribute listing. That should get you unstuck immediately but it only gives you a 1D-view of the topic you need ideas on. To generate 5-10X more ideas that will likely lead to totally unique combinations that still relate to the original topic, you can go one step further.

It's technically called morphological forced connections or, I'd probably just call, alternate runs. Here's how it works (with direct examples from a recent game jam and how I came up with the fake game box art above):

First, do the attribute listing exercise. Remember: a brick. What are its attributes? Size, color, weight, texture, etc. – inspires one-dimensional labels like red, heavy, porous, etc.

Next, summarize your attribute list into short 1-3 word phrases.

Then, lay them out in a table as header columns.

Underneath them, start listing all the alternative/opposite/variations.

Now, draw a "run" (line) from each column connecting to each other from left to right.

You now have 5-10X the number of ideas to work with and connect that are almost guaranteed to be totally unique to your situation and the people in the room.

Example: Game Jam Ideas

One of the themes for a game jam we participated in was "being alive."

Here's a snapshot of the attribute listing exercise we did to generate initial directions for the game:

As you can see, it's a very fun process.

Once the steam starts to run out, we moved on to alternate runs.

We summarized the attributes into short phrases, like this:

Movement, light, sound, growth, interact, converse, adventure, try something new, breathe, heat, memories, beating heart, pulse, passion, eating, trying, flame

Then, we listed them out and ideated on variations of each phrase:

Here I've doodled some alternate runs through the matrix:

These would generate a couple of game ideas like:

  • Blue: A cooking game (cooking) where you need to hurry (sprint) to cook up food before an armageddon event (shining, noise, spread), while maintaining your stamina (hold it in). There would be multiple rounds (wave).
  • Red: A dark humor game about aging. (dark + age). A DDR-style game where you are being held captive by an evil wizard and is forcing you to dance for your life. When the music stops (rhythm + sudden) you age, so you have to finish the song otherwise you'll become too old to finish and be dropped into a pit of lava (scalding).

As you can tell, you will come up with some pretty wild ideas. I turned the Blue idea into Armageddon Chef and used Midjourney to generate the box art you see above 😍

Just for kicks, here's another box art generated for the Red Idea:

A fantasy dance party set in a cave, with fire
DDR: Dark Wizard Edition? 

During the game jam, below the table, we used alternate runs to generate a list of fun game ideas:

You can feel free to use alternate runs for sub-topics too!

Going from "being alive" to "Mosh pit mom" or "Rythmn space game" or "short order cook in a haunted kitchen" is pretty impressive, don't you think?

That last item is where we ended up and we ran with it to create The Show Must Go On – a game about keeping a theater production going (keep it alive, see?).

With these two design thinking tools, you're well-equipped to bust through any creative walls you might be running into.

Chef's Ask: Use attribute listing and alternate runs to come up with something totally unique about your brand and product.

I'll be back next week with some applications of this idea to "boring" B2B products.

Have a lovely day,

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Hi 👋 I'm Kamran. I'm a consulting developer educator who can help your DevRel team increase adoption with better docs, samples, and courseware.
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