How to come up with good ideas.

Creativity techniques for designers and engineers

Whether you’re looking for text fireworks, graphics with a wow effect or ideas for design: Creativity always requires courage and a wealth of ideas. But you can’t simply call these up at the press of a button – or can you?

In the heavenly kingdom of creativity

That it isn’t always easy to be creative at the drop of a hat has now been highlighted by the more than 200 creative techniques established by scientists and creative minds themselves. In principle it is possible to differentiate between two approaches: intuitive methods and discursive methods. While the intuitive methods aim at activating unconscious knowledge and quickly producing lots of ideas, discursive methods work by processing individual ideas logically and systematically.

Several creative techniques can certainly be employed as a design engineer. Because the global competition is no longer simply happy to receive innovative technologies – they now expect them. Those who often have to create technically sophisticated ideas need new creative approaches. But not every method is suitable for every industry. For example, there is almost no way a new gripper is going to be the result of creative writing or a mind map session. Instead, design engineers really need to be hot on the trail of the gripper technology of tomorrow by tapping into the ideas of the past.

The death of an idea: old structures

Scientific studies confirm: Only those who approach a task in a motivated (and ambitious) way and, for example, think not just in terms of “any (old) new gripper” but instead the “best gripper technology of the decade” can be creative. In reality, these ambitions often fall short when it comes to daily life in the office. Constant deadline pressures and rigid structures are not compatible with creativity. The primary objective of the design engineer, therefore, must be to get their line managers on board. Professional further training and the ability to take a broader view are also important because those who want to be creative must know not just their own “playing field” inside out, but the industry as a whole. And, above all: work is allowed to be fun – a good working climate is everything to creativity.

Creativity is a diva

Every person is different and some company bosses will need to rethink their views if they want to promote creativity in the team. Corporations like Google are setting an example: Those who are given freedom are significantly more creative. Those who have been playing around for weeks without success, for example in trying to solve faulty gripper systems, could try the following:

  • Check your working climate: Do you still feel comfortable?
  • Do your thoughts flow? If not, deliberately imagine yourself in situations where this would happen more easily. (Those who come up with the best ideas when on the move should jog!)
  • When do your ideas simply bubble up at home? Can you apply this to your daily office life?
  • Are you bogged down? Then simply remove yourself from the pressure of ideas and do something completely different. For
  • Try out a new work environment. The conference room? The shop floor? The home office? The park?

Some need surroundings devoid of other people, while others only reach their peak form in a bustling airport terminal or on the train. Everything that leads to the goal, therefore, should be allowed: The best gripper systems imaginable.

„Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.“
Thomas A. Edison (1847 - 1931), American inventor

Hundreds of questions can lead to one answer

If you are confronted “merely” with the problem of modifying your gripper system, an Osborn or SCAMPER checklist could be the right method for you. But if you need to develop a never-before-seen gripping mechanism, it’s worth having a look at Synectics or the Edison approach. Ideas did not simply fall into Mr. Edison’s lap either, by the way: He searched systematically for problems he could solve. Make a conscious effort to look for different technical problems that require a solution. With a lot of luck you may have a brainwave far removed from your actual subject!

Edison’s approach of posing the same question in a hundred different ways is also worthwhile. Break away from your familiar thought patterns and deliberately take a detour. What appears make little sense, particularly when working under the pressure of deadlines, is Edison’s approach in which he worked on lots of different projects at the same time. He himself said that (inefficient) solutions from one project often turned out to be real boon for another. He relied on the formula initial question plus inspiration = ideas. Those who also decide to do as Edison did will at least by now have one or two ideas that must be implemented by a creative concept; and also to take the wind out of the sails of potential critics. Once you no longer have to permanently defend your ideas for an innovative gripper system, it will most probably be able to be built as it is or in a modified form.

The Osborn checklist is a creativity technique in which new ideas are created by specifically questioning existing products or processes.

The cellar of the patent office: The pool of ideas

Like Edison, the inventers and scientists Altschuller and Shapiro were also concerned with creative problem-solving. Their approach, known as TRIZ, was developed under a daring hypothesis: The viewing of innumerable patent documents and the subsequent selection and evaluation of those that described technical breakthroughs. This is because the scientists assumed that it was possible to identify a principle behind every patent. They formulated this as follows:

  • A large number of inventions are based on a comparatively small number of general solution principles.
  • Innovative developments are made possible only by resolving contradictions.
  • The evolution of technical systems follows specific patterns and laws.

TRIZ is a set of methodological tools to make it easier to define and analyze a specific technical problem, starting with a description of the objectives. This is then broken down into its abstract parts and a solution is sought in the abstract space. The abstract solution is then creatively translated into potential specific solutions, after which a solution is selected. As design engineers looking for modern gripper systems, the use of TRIZ avoids attributing a solution to a problem too prematurely. Instead, TRIZ allows you to select from a pool of already existing solution methods.

The creativity technique TRIZ abstracts specific problems into general problems. The solution of a general problem thus helps to solve the specific problem.

Give a lot and get a lot in return

There are as many creative minds are there are people. Today those who wish to provide the best and most efficient customer solutions for gripper technology can best achieve this by having happy, motivated employees. Also as a line manager, you need to accept that not everyone “ticks” the same. While the “early bird” has already eaten a second breakfast at half-past seven, there is no way that night owls are going to be thinking about work yet so early in the morning. Give both space and time for creative teamwork. Those who are given this space have the highest motivation and are thus a decisive step closer to innovative gripper systems.