One of the handiest bits of "equipment" to the idea searcher may be an inquisitive child. The best place for him may prove to be, not the quiet spot on a mountain top he dreams of, away from people, but in a battle of wits with his children. The number of questions a child can ask is astonishing. Why are handkerchiefs square? Why is soap slippery? Why is a clock called a clock?
A list of questions has been devised to keep you moving on a straight track instead of foggily in a circle. These questions will help you quickly analyze an ordinary problem; enable you to see all around it completely, get at its hidden values, give you many fresh ideas, talking points and idea-seeds.
Every newspaper reporter is familiar with the five questions - what, who, when, where, why. These are a good beginning for any analysis of a situation. Using these, you should seek every possible association of your subject - the subjects closely related to it in any practical way.
Begin any search for ideas with a definition. Just what is the problem or the thing? Of what is it composed, and of what other materials might it be made? Thus the use of plastics for metals saves vast quantities of useful natural resources. What is the purpose, and can an additional purpose be found for it, as a truck that moves from town to town and also houses its occupants (the trailer); or a hassock that opens on top and provides space for little oddments inside.
Who are the people concerned. Every product or idea is good only as far as it is suitable, and available to the people for whom it is intended. You must know the buyer, the audience, the user, the reader, or whatever group you wish to appeal to. You must keep your idea within the range of their capacity to use, enjoy and pay. Think of the people - their needs, tastes, comforts. Think too of the people who will be engaged in producing the product. This often opens up new angles.
When is it used? Can it be used at another time? For instance basic dresses, which may be worn day or evening by a simple change of accessories. Or a canned fruit, which may be preserved in summer for use in winter. Or a book of the month plan which functions recurrently.
Some ideas can be transplanted from another part of the world. A few years ago someone traveling in Japan found that the natives used only paper handkerchiefs. The practice impressed the traveler for its sanitary, disposable quality, and when he returned, he invented a modern, better way based on this idea, and gave us Kleenex. He also gave us by way of his advertising, countless additional uses for the same product, and was among the first to awaken other people to the value of paper for kitchen and household uses.
Can you find additional reasons "why" for its use, other virtues or values to exploit in it that make a stronger idea? Some products have such values that are never even realized by users. Thus few people who used a certain well-known soap, knew that there was a reason why there was a little indentation in the top of it. But when the piece was well worn down, you could fit it into this recess of a new cake the two wet pieces merging and thus eliminating waste scraps. Look for these plus values.
Another important question is How. By analyzing all the processes and methods, new ideas and improvements may be discovered. Thus, crinkled hairpins or bobby pins that stay put. Another manufacturer roughened his paper clips, causing them to hold papers together more securely, and made a large fortune on this small improvement. Consider how it was made and whether it can be made a more convenient way, as windows, which may be washed from inside the room.
With these simple questions as your basis, you will be able to generate any number of great ideas. Good luck!
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