- Divide participants into small groups of four to seven people. Tell them they have
five minutes to think of different uses for a coffee mug. Encourage them to think
of as many uses as they can and write them on a flip chart, chalkboard, or white-
- Call time and ask each group to report how many ideas they generated.
- Have each group try to think of at least five more ideas within four minutes.
- Tell them to go over their lists and see if their ideas fall into categories. For
instance, do some of their ideas involve uses for holding foods and nonfoods? Did
any ideas involve giving mugs away as presents or awards for different events?
Or did they think of building things with them (such as a coffee cup castle).
- Note that their ideas—just as most ideas do—should fall into several categories.
Tell them to describe the categories represented by their ideas and then use these
categories to think of more ideas. For instance, sample categories for using coffee
mugs might include holding liquid foods, solid foods, nonfood items, building
things, weighing down things, supporting things, pounding things, as defensive
weapons, et cetera.
- Tell the groups the following:
“We often use categories to stimulate ideas because they can help stretch our
thinking. Unfortunately, many of us use only a limited number of categories, or
we use rather conventional categories. If you really stretched your thinking, how-
ever, you might have broken away from conventional categories. You might have
thought of some offbeat uses that involved crushing or otherwise altering the
cups. For instance, you could remove the cup handles and use them as handles for
kitchen cupboards, or you could crush the cups and use the remains for automo-
bile tire traction on ice.”
- Have the groups share any unusual categories they might have thought of.
- If there is time, you might want to share the following true story involving a cre-
ative use for a coffee cup that that might not occur frequently:
Teresa Smith, manager of a Taco Mayo in Oklahoma City, was depositing the
store’s evening receipts in a bank’s night depository. A man ran up and grabbed
the restaurant’s money bag from her purse. She poured a cup of hot coffee on him
and then hit him on the head with the cup. The man turned and ran with the
money, but also with an injured head. Perhaps he’ll think twice now before he
robs a coffee-mug-toting woman!
This exercise may have helped the participants think of many more ideas than they
thought they could. The categories helped target their thinking and allowed them to
search for ideas more systematically. All it took was a different way to conduct their idea
search. The activities in the following chapters do the same thing. They help draw out
more ideas than if thinking unaided. And although a group will produce more ideas than
an individual, idea generation activities even will help groups surpass their collective
Linking Problems, Solutions, and Activities 31
03 VG 21-31 10/5/04 4:29 PM Page 31