We have all heard the same thing. If you have a great idea it has either already been thought up or there is a good chance it has already been done. If that's actually true, how do you come up with a unique solution? How do you combat that? There are tons of techniques to help out here. This is one of them.
When you are innovating, brainstorming or trying to solve a problem with a unique solution (unique being key) the first five ideas you come up with will in all likelihood, be the same five ideas that other people have come up with before you. It doesn't matter if you are an innovation genius or not. It's just highly likely.
But why? Because we generally have similar life experiences, we all need to eat, drink, sleep, bathe, and so on. And we are all intimately involved in very similar things. Whether it is our jobs, industry, being a parent, or sports, we know the things we care to innovate pretty well. At least we should, anyway. We also generally understand problems the same in those given problem areas. Because of this (non scientific) reason 9 out of 10 people will come up with the same solutions to those problems.
When people problem solve, or brainstorm a solution they often go with their first few ideas because humans instinctively trust their experience and gut. That's a small trap we set for ourselves. What's more, if you are confident in your abilities and knowledge of the subject, this can become a HUGE innovative trap. So how do we avoid doing this?
One way to ensure that we come up with unique ideas and solutions is to brainstorm 25-50 ideas. You can do this individually or as a group. It doesn't really matter if you hit the number as long as you get close. It doesn't matter if the ideas are viable or even good, just put them on the table. The point is that you get those initial ideas on paper, get past them. You open up your mind, and forget those gut instincts and experience traps.
So now you have 25-50 (or close to it) ideas. Take the first five and throw them out the window. Those are going to be the first five things that anyone familiar with your subject or problem will also think of. Don't believe me? Try this exercize with a group of people. If you are brave, throw out the first ten. Now what you will have left are some good ideas and some bad ideas. Some of the best innovations or solutions came from those bad ideas. That's for another blog post, though.
Innately, we hate throwing good ideas away. Especially our first ones. So this process might be hard at first, because you might feel like you are throwing away gold. You're not. You are throwing away the same ideas that everyone else has and doing what people rarely do and that is to look deeper.
With the remaining ideas, take them further, elaborate on them. You may just find that there is hidden gold amongst them that you end up liking way more than the first five.