Design Thinking Toolkit, Lesson 31 – Forced Connections

Are you ready to participate in “Forced Connections,” the design thinking equivalent of six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon? Yes? Cool. Let’s go!

Primary Goal To ideate/create multiple ideas or solutions
When to Use As a jump start for ideation
Time Required 20-40 minutes
Number of Participants 1-10+
Who Should Participate? Any members of the team
Supplies Paper, drawing utensils

Forced Connections is a somewhat wacky activity that involves mashing together seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts to generate new ideas. For example, imagine two words, bird and car. What might you get if you combined the two? A flying car.

This boundary-pushing framework will have you creating innovative ideas that can span the gamut from practical to out-of-this-world.

How to Prepare for Forced Connections

  1. Prepare the workspace. Have a large whiteboard or wall cleared off and ready. Have Post-its and Sharpies ready for each participant.
  2. Define the problem or challenge statement. Start by defining the problem or challenge that you’re trying to address. This might involve identifying a customer pain point, a process that needs improvement, or a new product or service that you’re trying to develop.
  3. Select random words. Once you have defined the problem, select a set of random words that are unrelated to the problem. You can use an online tool or a physical set of cards to generate various words. For example, you might select words such as “banana”, “fishing”, “television”, “hammer”, and “cloud”. Write each word on a Post-it note and place randomly on the wall/whiteboard.
  4. Select problem-related words. Now select a set of words that are related to your problem. For example, if the problem is related to a car you might pick a few words like “highway”, “driver”, “car”, “turn signal”, etc. Like in the last step, write each word on a Post-it note and place it randomly among all the other words on the wall/whiteboard.

Running the Activity

  1. Explain the activity and provide a few simple examples. Discuss the format of the activity with participants and give them a few examples of how connections can be made. The bird and car example above would be a good place to start.
  2. Combine the words. Now have participants begin combing words to create new solutions or ideas. For example, you might combine the word “apple” with “process improvement” to generate the idea of using apple cores leftover from school lunch programs as a natural compost for a community garden. You might combine “hunting” with “customer engagement” to generate the idea of using hunting analogies in targeting specific customer groups through targeted social media campaigns. Keep combining the words until participants generate several interesting, unique, and potentially useful ideas.
  3. Evaluate the ideas. Once the group has generated a set of ideas, evaluate them based on their feasibility, desirability, and viability. Mark favorites with a star sticker or large circle or prioritize them into a stacked list of favorite ideas.
  4. Refine the ideas. Once you have evaluated each idea, refine them based on your evaluation criteria. Final ideas can be further iterated upon and action plans can be created to determine the next steps or implementation strategies.

Atomic’s Design Thinking Toolkit


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