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Seeking Innovation

Submitted by Jack Byrd, Jr.

This activity describes a simple practice for generating innovative ideas. By using mind mapping, participants describe the landscape of an issue and then use word connections to generate new ideas that can be developed into workable and innovative new directions.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 1 votes, rating(s)
Quasar 2.0: Star Incubator art installation by Jean Michel Crettaz and Mark-David

Learning Goal

  • Practice using “good word connections” as a strategy for sparking innovative thinking.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Select a topic or area of concern that is important to your group.

If possible, take inventory of what participants already know about this topic prior to the first gathering. This could be collected using an asynchronous mind map platform, like

Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.

Step One: Take Inventory (10 min)

If participants completed an online mind map in advance, share this with the group. If not, take inventory of what the group already knows about the selected topic. This can be done on a board, flip chart, or online (try mindmeister).

Step Two: Introduce and Play with Word Connections (20 min)

Introduce the process of making “word connections.” Model how to combine random words from a “good word list” and then explore how these words might lead to new avenues of exploration. You can make up your own list or use the IF Good Words List.

Using the list of good words, randomly combine a verb, noun, and adjective. Overlay this word combination with the mind map to see what connections might be made.

Ask each participant to try making a word connection and then invite a couple of participants to share their words and how these specific words helped them to generate a new idea or the beginning of a new idea for the topic.

Step Three: Expand on Word Connections (10 min)

In pairs or small groups (3-5 ppl), invite participants to play with this exercise for an additional ten minutes. They can work together to randomly combine three words and then explore how this combination applies or can apply to the topic. This second step will force them to think creatively together and make connections that are not obvious at first glance.

Step Four: Debrief as a Full Group (10 min)


  • How was the initial list or mind map helpful? How does taking inventory help situate this activity?

  • Describe the struggles that you had in using the word combinations to generate possible innovations.

  • How might you coach others to overcome those struggles?

  • Which were your favorite ideas that came from the word connection process?

  • How or when might you use this process again?





Creative Collaboration

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average rating is 4 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:42:10 PM

This activity is great when a group is comfortable sharing thoughts--but it is modified to be more introspective at first. There are two versions of this, one to recognize "normalized" feelings, the other is labeled "extreme" as the group was practicing navigating high emotion. This first one covers parents, cats, dogs: This one is to recognize more difficult to talk about feelings of fear, disgust, etc.:

average rating is 5 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:28:11 PM

This activity was modified for a Business & Professional Communication class. It is best when the groups have gone through the guidelines activity to help facilitate how to communicate and even the 3.4 ambiguity. This is a difficult activity if the class is uncomfortable speaking (and in my case they were very adverse to discussing these in any group). Here is how I set it up (along with a print out of the words). It is modified to fit the business world, but worked well as a concept.

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:33:05 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:31:01 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

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January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

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