October 17, 2005

Create 100 research ideas

I frequently help my clients to free themselves up enough to create new research ideas. It's clear what kind of thinking gets in their way. Here are some of the protests that I hear when I ask clients to brainstorm new ideas:
  • It's probably already been done
  • That's a stupid idea -- I can't believe I said it
  • It's too obvious
  • It doesn't seem important enough
  • My mind is blank; I can't think of anything

I suggest that you get into a real brainstorming mode when you try to come up with research ideas. Here's a reminder of what's needed to brainstorm effectively:

  • You can't critique your ideas
  • All ideas, no matter how bad they seem, should be written down
  • Create as many ideas as you can. Aim for an impossibly high number. One hundred seems about right!
  • If possible, do this with someone else, who is in on the rules of brainstorming.
  • It sometimes helps to purposely come up with outlandish ideas, to help your brain break out of its box.

Another way to help generate research ideas is to start with a theory. Find a theory that intrigues you and see how many ideas can come from it. Here is a list of ten ways to use theory to generate research ideas, from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. It was originally written for psychology, so I've made it more generic.

  1. Apply the theory to solve a practical problem.
  2. Use the theory to understand a real-life situation.
  3. Apply it to a different sub-field than it was intended for.
  4. Apply it in a related field (I suggest considering theories from related fields; e.g., cognitive psychology theories as they relate to marketing)
  5. Look for moderator variables: slight changes that you could apply that would change the findings that others got in their work.
  6. Apply the theory to a different subject population (e.g., theory about the effect of slavery in America applied to theories about slavery in Ancient Egypt)
  7. Take it "to the limit": exagerrate the theory and see what it predicts
  8. Improve the accuracy of the theory
  9. Go for the jugular (not sure; maybe they mean try to tear it apart)
  10. Pit two theories against each other

Use these ideas to jump start your list of 100 research ideas.


Innovation always brings out the nay-sayers. All research involves innovation. Be alert to others who would put down your ideas. You have enough self doubt bombarding you from within.

Here is a comment on negativity from The Daily Innovator: "Don't let others' insecurities deter you from your mission." Another way to say this is: "Illegitimi Non Carborundum." He also points out a quote from Joel Orr on the challenge of innovation:

    Innovation is an unnatural act. It induces fear, unmitigated by the promise of great gains in productivity. The fear is fear of personal loss - prestige; power; respect...
    But the consensus is that the future belongs to those who innovate - and who are willing to try innovative tools.

    Will you own your future?


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