How to Use the Power of Forced Association

14.03.2018 |

Episode #4 of the course How to unleash your creativity by Jurgen Wolff


In the previous lesson, we explored how to come up with new and different approaches to your subject. The tool you’ll discover in this lesson is possibly the most powerful one of all for generating ideas: forced association.


Two Elements of Forced Association

Your starting point is a challenge of some kind. Let’s say you want to come up with a way to stop procrastinating.

You also need a list of random words. You can just jot down the first 30 or 40 words that occur to you, or open a book and start listing the words you spot. Have a variety that includes the names of objects, emotions, places, etc. For our examples, we’ll use these random words:

• hospital
• angry
• giraffe

Your job is to find a connection between the random word and the challenge. Let your thoughts flow until you find that link. Let’s see how this works with procrastination. For each word, I’ll describe the flow of thoughts I had when trying to link that word to the problem. As you’ll see, not all of my ideas were good, but I wrote them down for later evaluation.

Procrastination + Hospital: Hospitals are full of sick people; sick people are treated by specialists. IDEA: Find a life coach who specializes in helping people who procrastinate.

Hospitals hook people up to machines that go off when something goes wrong. IDEA: Hook up some kind of alarm or siren to your chair that goes off when you get up or switch to Facebook when you’re supposed to be working.

Hospitals sometimes put people in quarantine. IDEA: Get somebody to lock you into a room until you finished the work you’ve been avoiding.

Procrastination + Angry: What would make me angry? I just bought an Apple watch, so the first thing that comes to mind is that I’d be angry if somebody stole it. IDEA: Give a friend one of your prized possessions, and tell them they can keep it if you don’t meet your deadline.

Angry people get into fights. Fights remind me of boxing matches. People bet on boxing matches. IDEA: Bet a friend that you’ll do a task by a certain deadline; if you don’t, they win the bet and an agreed-upon amount of money.

As you can see, it took a few steps to come up with that last idea. Let your thoughts flow until you get a relevant idea.

Procrastination + Giraffes: Giraffes have long necks. They eat leaves. They live in the jungle. The jungle makes me think of lions. Lions make me think of hyenas. Supposedly, hyenas laugh. IDEA: Post on social media that you’re going to finish your project by a certain time, and invite everybody to laugh at you if you fail.

By the way, if procrastination is a problem for you, you’ll find my course on overcoming procrastination here on Highbrow. But whatever the challenge, using the forced association technique usually leads to a flood of new ideas.


Your Turn

To experience this method for yourself, try linking a challenge that you have with two of the following words (if you draw a blank, just move on to the next word):

• drone
• baby
• library
• jealousy

Some people find that images stimulate more thoughts than words. You can use forced association by combining your challenge with a random image. I collect the kinds of free postcards you often find in restaurants or bars and use their images, but you can also open any magazine to a random page and use the first image you spot.

You can try both versions of forced association and see which one works best for you.

In the next lesson, we look at how you can boost your creativity just by thinking of one particular type of person and having a group of invisible counselors.


Recommended book

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield


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