Building your Idea, Problem and Trigger Bank

A powerful tool in the world of creating, developing and implementing ideas is to develop a system for recordign your ideas, problems and triggers.

Idea Bank

Capturing ideas is an important habit to develop. But what do you do with your constantly growing collection of index cards, notebooks or dictaphone tapes?

As well as capturing your ideas, you need a system to file and organise in such a way that you can regularly review them as well as adding to the collection. An idea bank is a place to record your ideas along with the date and time. Also, set up categories for filing the ideas.

You could use a manual system of filing using a manila folder for each topic or subject. Index cards could be placed in the folder or a sheet of paper could be used to record the page number from your journal.

Special storage boxes and dividers can be used to store index cards. Read the extract from Robert Pirsig’s novel Lila at the end of this chapter to learn about a very large filing system for cards.

The computer is ideal for organising large amounts of information as well as blinding fast for searching. A variety of programs can be used to organise your ideas: Spreadsheets (Excel), database programs, Word documents, or tree based programs such as Treepad (the commercial version allows storage of images).

Problem Bank

A problem bank is a place to keep track of the issues and challenges you would like to work in with your creativity and humour techniques. A problem bank doesn’t have to be complicated. You can use index cards with one problem per card, or use a spreadsheet with columns for date, category (area of your life or work) and a description.

A problem bank is one way to overcome the issue of problem overload. Record all your problems, challenges and goals then prioritize them. Choose the most important problem and focus your energy on that problem alone. Stephen Covey and Roger Merrill wrote a brilliant book titled “First Things First”. The title encapsulates the main message of the book. Identify what is important in your life and allocate time to those areas. 

Record all your problems and challenges and attempt some sort of categorizing and prioritizing. For example, you could list problems relevant to your health and well being, your family, friends, community, office environment, or even the world. Don’t worry if you think the problem is too big for you. Write it down. For example, the issue of how Australia is handling the asylum seekers is probably too big for you to solve personally. But, write it down. You may work on the problem by writing letters to the Government or the media. Write down the problems that are relevant to you.

Try this Exercise. Pause from reading this page for 3 minutes and use that time to write down all the things that are bugging you at the moment. Write down your main challenges and issues. If you need more time, keep on writing!

Keep adding to your problem bank, and review it regularly. Make it a habit to “withdraw” a problem on a regular basis and work on it using some creativity techniques.

A good way to add to the problem bank is to set aside some time and use some focused thinking. For example, I compiled the following list of questions to get me thinking about my daily routine: 

Another way to add to the problem bank is to list the things that annoy or frustrate you (a bug list). Two examples from my list:

Later on when I take  a problem out of the problem bank I can focus my thinking and explore the issue. For example, the noisy train trip could get me thinking about different ways to use my time on the train.

The problem list will probably grown big enough to keep you busy for many lifetimes. The important thing is to record all your problems, but prioritize them regularly so you focus on the most important and useful challenges.

Trigger Bank

Have you ever seen a product or service and thought “that’s a really good idea!”. These ideas can be used as “triggers” or stepping stones to other ideas. Triggers can be applied to new problems and domains to generate new ideas. For example, beer is packaged in easy to carry six packs as well as heavier cartons of 24 cans or bottles.

You could use this trigger for a problem you are working on. For example, you are trying to sell some of your consulting services. Using this trigger, you say "In what ways could creating packages of six items be applied to my problem of packing my consulting services". Solutions could include providing six days consulting for the price of five. The sixth day could be taken over the weekend as a standby service or telephone consulting.

Get into the habit of observing the world and taking notes of interesting and novel inventions, goods and services. These observations can be added to your trigger bank.

Some sample triggers can be seen on the newsletter for IdeaGen (a Sydney-based Creativity Consulting company).

Maybe you record your Ideas, Problems and Triggers in your journal.

Develop some unique icons or symbols to identify them in your notes.
For example, you could draw a stylised I, P and T letters inside a circle or star.


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