More Lenses to Stretch Thinking

31.05.2017 |

Episode #6 of the course How to lead a productive and creative brainstorm by TD Haines


Brainstorming is like the Goldilocks Zone. Too much of one thing, too little of the other, and it will all go haywire. Similar to the participant group size, you should include three to five lenses for your participants. Too little and you won’t get the disruptive juices flowing. Too many and you’ll run out of steam before the end and just turn it into a braingrind. Nobody wants that.

Thankfully, brainstorming is more forgiving than a family of bears or planetary mechanics. Don’t be afraid to try things out. Learn, reflect, adjust.


Lens: Someone Else’s Problem

It can be hard to think outside the box when the box tries to surround you every day. This lens allows people to take a few parallel steps outside the box danger zone and into another frame of reference. Current status quo constraints fade away if you switch organizations.

Pull from popular brands that most people have a connection with. This will give them some experiences, some narrative to work from.

Using the main pain points that you’re brainstorming around, ask questions like “How would Coca Cola solve this problem?” It would help to have a list of common brands to draw from. Each has different strengths, different stories to tell. The results you get from “How would Starbucks solve this problem?” will be different than the results you get from “How would public transportation solve this?”


Lens: Hobbies and Pastimes

The Hobbies and Pastimes Lens works just like the Someone Else’s Problem Lens, but this time it’s personal.

Have participants share their out-of-work pursuits. Knitting, home-brewing, making games, raising chickens, it’s all fair game.

With the hobbies on the table, ask people to think about how they would solve a problem like the one you’re brainstorming around within their hobby.

This lens will reveal which participants are good at making good abstract connections.


Lens: Something It’s Like

This lens is not for the faint of heart. It’s challenging, but it can be worth the effort.

Using the pain points* of the problem, this lens asks brainstormers to think of something analogous. “This problem is like ___. And this is how that is solved.” It’s tricky because like an understocked shoe store, most ideas won’t fit just right. Close enough is going to count here.

These solutions tend to be the most unique because the lens requires the biggest leap.

There is another set of lenses for you in the next lesson, and I think I’ve saved the best for last.

*Super Secret Note: Along with the pain points of your problem, you’ll also want to bring the user persona so that they solve this for the right type of user, as well as the jobs to be done. The jobs to be done are what really is trying to be accomplished that is resulting in your problem. If users keep forgetting their passwords because they are so long and complicated, then the job to be done is “log in securely.”



• Add new lenses that you want to try to your brainstorming plan.

• Create a list of popular brands and list a couple characteristics of each.

• Spend some time and try to find your own lens. What’s a fresh way to look at a problem?

• Check out this blog post on a “game” I call Donkey Dice. Here you can store extra lenses that you can use as audibles if your brainstormers ever get stuck.


Recommended book

The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry


Share with friends