How to Come Up with Disruptive Ideas Using ‘Random Words’? [Including Video]

6 min readDec 12, 2018

We only need to be creative and come up with original, new ideas 2% of the times on an average day, yet disruptive solutions are the key to any successful business in the 21stcentury. We need breakthrough solutions for building a killer product and for growing it with an exceptional customer experience that will be memorable. It is the responsibility of everyone in a company to contribute with their ideas, validating them and implementing the best ones as one common team to achieve this breakthrough. So, it’s more than high time to train our creative brains and expect both employees and students to come up with surprising ideas on any usual weekday. Why? Because by training creative problem solving skills people will:

  • Solve a creative problem faster or better which they discover
  • Connect solutions from different industries to boost efficiency
  • Make people’s lives happier with highly valuable products and services

However, creativity and lateral thinking is not like how our brain works every day — 98% of the times we try to automate things, we create habits, follow directions and we use assumptions to reduce our thinking load. As a company, we follow the market leaders or already set-up lower-risk processes. In fact, we never really learn how to solve creative problems in school, neither solve real-life challenges at home, nor in a work environment.

To come up with something new and creative, we need to think illogically first and use associations between things that might seem to have nothing in common. This is how we will end up with an association that triggers the disruptive solution we were after. The random word technique is a perfect method to be used in a group and inspire creative, disruptive ideas to make processes more efficient or identify breakthrough opportunities. This is what we are also using within our team every week to find answers for a creative challenge in: going global, multiplying our sales capabilities, or increasing product development efficiency.

How do “Random Words” help you come up with Disruptive Ideas?

We can introduce the random words after a few steps down the road on a business meeting, brainstorming session or at the school. Here is a video where Pris, Be-novative’s CEO explains the steps:

You can do these in person with post-it notes or you can also create a virtual challenge in Be-novative by clicking here. If you choose the virtual challenge just define the problem, invite your colleagues and Be-novative will help you facilitate the rest to get to the most impactful — feasible ideas in a democratic and playful way within minutes.

First, we need to define the question well that we want to collect ideas about. Phrasing the challenge is important. It should neither be too specific (narrow) nor too general (broad). It should explain a bit about the goals, what we want to achieve and what is the challenge’s background. It should also be inviting for people, you want them to get excited and want to contribute. You can share the evaluation criteria and some example ideas as well, that may trigger better ideas.

Then you can start collecting ideas individually. Everyone in your team should first write their ideas on a post-it note or in the virtual ideation room. They may see others to be writing and thinking as well, let everyone think on their own, no biases — don’t share the exact ideas with each other, yet in the first 3–5 minutes.

Then after a few minutes you can share the initially created ideas in the group. They will be inspiration for the participants to come up with more ideas based on what others have thought. A great time to build on each other’s ideas!

Add more inspiration — Random Words

After some time, your team will need more inspiration and associations to overlook the existing assumptions about solving the problem. This is stepping outside the box. There are a few inspirational techniques, like using pictures or the “what if…” questions, but let’s see how the random word technique works. The best way is to introduce nouns. Because nouns trigger mostly common symbols from the mind, that we all have different associations about. These nouns can be a fix set of words (anywhere between 20–250) that were identified by psychologists and Edward de Bono, himself, but if you don’t know this collection, it is perfectly fine to have the facilitator use any dictionary and open it up on a random page, and point on a random word (as long as its a noun).

So when you are using the random word technique, simply ask people to connect the word with a new solution using associational steps and reframing the original question. They should write down each new, creative idea to a new post-it and repeat this process choosing new words 4–5 times.

This is how you will discover new aspects of the problem, look past your original assumptions and come up with really out-of-the-box or even breakthrough solutions. This is why, using unlikely associations and training your lateral thinking is so effective.

There is an important point about using this technique: the word doesn’t have to be logical, it doesn’t have to be in connection with the topic or with the ideas in any ways. That is the main point. The purpose of using the random words is to overstep your assumptions and identify new routes and new aspects from the problem from a lateral way. This is what Edward de Bono calls: movement. To move away from the common approach and open up new ways of thinking about the same question.

The ‘Random Words’ technique works well in a corporate business environment

It is not only generating ideas at Apple and collective creativity workshops at Pixar where regular ideation sessions involving employees works like a charm. We, at Be-novative, had an ideation session with engineers of a Fortune2000 technology enterprise, a well-established, well-known brand. The VP of engineering put a new product to the table for his fellow engineers to share their ideas about the following challenge: How can we significantly improve the efficiency of this to-be-released product? They were there to find new ways before to product goes into final production and market release. After general idea sharing within the team the random word “magnet” came up. One of the engineers soon shouted out loud: “How come I never noticed this?” He did 2–5 associational steps, like this: Magnet — Attraction — Becoming closer together — now reframing the product improvement question: which particles could we move closer together to improve efficiency? So, he came up with the idea: “If we move these particles closer together and connect them, this proximity will significantly improve efficiency and lower the costs, they should not be in two endpoints of the product!” This is how in under 2 weeks of prototyping and validation iteration cycles this single idea brought 200% efficiency increase with additional cost reduction. It was a big hit by market launch. It soon became one of the most popular products of the company that year.

Empowering employees in a creative culture will bring a spark of excitement and wow-effect that will affect every level of the enterprise and its’ customers’ experience.

Organizations of the future will be those that strengthen a culture of innovation and let people — their employees, customers, partners or even talented university students — use their creativity to imagine products, services, processes, customer experience and even employee engagement programs to be the best version possible. Breakthroughs are created through collective creativity by various unlikely associations and connections that does not seem to be logical at first sight but prove to be brilliant after prototyping and validation. The companies that take the courage to empower people to come up with improvement suggestions every day will not just survive in the 21st century, but they will outpace their competitors in a new market segment with their disruptive solution. The good news is: there is simply no risk in a trial!

Useful resources to read:

How Apple uses random words to brainstorm

Generating ideas at Apple

Innovation How to generate original creative ideas with random word stimulation

List of Random Words




Be-novative is a Design Thinking and Innovation platform that helps organizations build breakthroughs collaboratively. @benovative