Inspired by a pencil

Last week I did a short group session where I tried out ‘object association’ for the first time, and I was amazed at the results!

If you don’t already know, object association is about taking a random object, listing its attributes, then using those attributes to make associations with the problem you need to solve. So in this session the group used a pencil to make associations with the challenge of ‘finding new forms of collaboration between industry and academia’.

The group came up with 25(!) attributes of a pencil and made associations such as: make more commitments (from the attribute ‘eraseable’), be more flexible (from the attribute ‘wooden/stiff’) and be more ruthless (from the attribute ‘sharp weapon’).

The idea wasn’t to come up with solutions, just to get some new perspectives on the challenge before going into developing solutions.

I was taken aback by the sheer variety of ideas, and it made me realise how the world is full of objects and people who can potentially bring us inspiration. I will never look at a pencil in the same light again!


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