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How do you come up with new ideas? Brand new ideas can be difficult to pull out of thin air, but there are plenty of ways to examine things that will bring out new combinations. For example, we’ve had flour, water, tomatoes, and cheese for centuries, but modern pizza is a relatively new invention (1899), a combination of existing ingredients.

Inflatable brain

The same applies to forms of marketing, and really to any discipline or field of study. For example, suppose you took 3 different ideas and tried to think up some way for them to work together, such as display ads, social media, and Gestalt theory of visual perception. Each discipline has ideas about how things are supposed to work, but when you put them together, you might get something completely unforeseen.

  • Gestalt theory of visual perception attempts to explain how the human eye sees (and how the brain interprets it).
  • Social media attempts to explain and facilitate human interaction in a digital landscape.
  • Display advertising attempts to provide awareness and conversion opportunities for marketers to drive business.

Once you’ve identified your 3 areas, figure out what they have in common. In this example, the logical commonality is us, the human being. What we see (and how we see it) can in turn create interaction. Display advertising can be the vehicle by which we see things, the way things are presented to us. Suppose you had an advertisement that went beyond simple branding or an offer and became a visual puzzle to solve, something that intentionally violated Gestalt theory. Suppose that puzzle required interaction with other people – gathering up your friends to solve it socially, a puzzle that required collaboration.

Now the possibilities start to pop. What would that puzzle look like? How would you create it, build it, and distribute it? I’ve no idea what such a thing would look like, but I’ve now got a basis for creating something, a starting point for a project that could be innovative. Like many things, once you get started, once you get a little momentum, it’s easier to keep things moving forward. Think of this as innovation mad libs.

Let’s pick a few more random examples out of thin air that could be the foundation for blog posts, products, services, maybe even the Next Big Thing.

  • Heat maps, social media, interstate traffic
  • Health insurance, campaign donations, regression analysis
  • Twitter, tea, Kindle publishing platform
What kinds of products, services, posts, rants, etc. could you come up with for each of these?

Expand this kind of thinking to other areas, to other ways of looking at the world, and you might be surprised at how many untapped innovations have been waiting for you right under your nose.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


3 responses to “Innovation mad libs”

  1. Chris I really enjoyed this post. I think it all starts with pausing and really looking at the world around us. We are obsessed with speed and spend most of our time in a dazed state created by this perceived notion of movement. Where are we going really? 
    That’s a big question and without looking at where we are, we certainly aren’t going to go very far.

    Great post as always and definitely food for thought.

  2. Innovation is a force for social change. I love the encouragement you provide to the community. Yet, I think it is important to note that innovation comes at tremendous personal cost. The reality of risk/reward curves apply to all of us. 

  3. The job being innovative is not easy. Someone might have got an idea of making pizza with existing gradients but that would not be sufficient for being successful. It is very important to analyze the percentages of the gradients to be used in the product to make it sell. A lot of effort is required.

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