There are writers who believe blocks are a real thing. I am not one of them. As long as you are alive, I believe, your brain is working. And, as long as it’s working, it can give you ideas.

By extension, there are those who believe new and good ideas cannot be forced. Again, I am not one of those believers. Often, by creating a construct or by setting a time limit, you can come up with ideas that your brain will happily supply via a challenge.


There is a major multinational that takes applicants on a given day and puts them into a team, with the explanation there will be a group interview instead of the traditional, individual interview. The team is given the task—come up with 30 ways to improve a bathtub in five minutes—as the company interviewers observe. And observe they do. Not only are the listed outcomes considered, but also the way the applicants acted and interacted. Leadership is noted, as are qualities such as enthusiasm and creativity and nonverbals/verbals such as who might roll up his or her sleeves and say, “Let’s go.”

The interesting part of the “interview” is the second half, for which applicants are told: “We are now going to remove one team member. And, instead of five minutes, you will have just four. Your task: to come up with 30 additional ways to improve a bathtub, without repeating any ideas on the first list.”

It may surprise you to learn that the second list is often superior to the obvious ideas that come to mind quickly in the process of compiling the first list.

TIP: Set a time limit on your thinking. Then, challenge yourself even more, as the interviewers did in the scenario above. Or, do what Thomas Alva Edison did: he set idea quotas for his workers and for himself: one minor invention every ten days and a major one every six months.


Given some boundaries, the brain will often accept the challenge to supply ideas we need to move forward with a task. For example, if a slogan were restricted to three or four words, you might come up with “Ross for Boss,” “It’s the economy, stupid,” “Feel the burn,” “Stay the course.”

Metaphors, of course, can be used to great advantage by those seeking to influence the thoughts and actions of millions. “It’s morning again in America,” Ronald Reagan told us. William McKinley appealed gastronomically: “Four more years of full bellies.” And Walter Mondale capitalized on a popular television ad when he asked, “Where’s the beef?”

TIP: It’s not just politicians who find good ideas in short sentences or metaphors. All of us can benefit. Find an ordinary object or abstraction. Use it as a metaphor for some project on which you are working, a project that needs some new thinking. Also….try to reduce to just a few words the goal for a problem or decision you need to resolve. Such condensation will help you focus.


Good ideas sometimes seem to come “out of the blue.” One way to bring the blue into your grey matter is to make a list of 100+ words. List to the tv and list a bunch; ask friends or family members to just toss out other words; open a book or magazine and randomly grab another bunch. 

Once you have your list compiled, write the situation or issue or cerebral challenge that has been occupying your mind.

Now, make a second list…a list of words related somehow to the issue that you are hoping to transform into a positive outcome. Aim for fifteen words.

Finally, take one of the words from the second list and juxtapose it with one of the words from the first list. Do this over and over, quickly, until your brain finds a connection that just might work to expand your thinking about the situation.

TIP: The combination of words that don’t typically go together often produces new pathways to innovative answers. Don’t hesitate to experiment.


Remember that one of the greatest minds of the century assured us that imagination is more important than knowledge. These tips for expanding and expediting your usual ways of thinking are likely to produce efficient and unexpected outcomes.

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Dr. Marlene Caroselli ([email protected]) is an author, keynoter, and corporate trainer whose clients include Lockheed Martin, Allied Signal, Department of the Interior, and Navy SEALS. She writes extensively about education, business, self-improvement, and careers and has adjuncted at UCLA and National University. Her first book, The Language of Leadership, was named a main selection by the Executive Book Club. Principled Persuasion, a more recent title, was designated a Director’s Choice by the Doubleday Book Club. Applying Mr. Albert: 365+ Einstein-Inspired Brain Boosts, her 62nd book, will be released by HRD Press in 2018.


  • Dr. Marlene Caroselli is the author of 60+ books, the most recent of which ("Applying Mr. Einstein") will be released by HRD Press in 2020. You can reach her at [email protected].