Have you ever tried starting a car on a bitterly cold day?  There’s nothing really wrong with the engine; it just needs to warm up a bit and get all the cylinders firing. Sometimes this happens to our creative ability and when it does, the best thing to do is take your brain out for a spin and let your subconscious do the driving.

One of the easiest and quickest techniques to jump-start a cold brain is word association. Word association is a fun creativity booster. To play, you simply choose a word and then make a list of other words that pop into your mind.

Let me demonstrate. I have a book here in front of me and I’ll use it to generate a random word. I usually close my eyes, open the book to a random page, put my finger somewhere on the page, and then open my eyes. The word above my finger is the word I’ll use to start my list.

Okay, the word my finger landed on is “decided.” Next, I write down this word and then make a list of 10 words that pop into my head as I think about the word “decided.” Here’s my list:


Some people think the act of creating this list is all there is to it, but this is not the real value. The real value is in analyzing the list and making new connections. This is what the brain does best, so now I’m going to rev up my engine by using my brain to analyze the material my subconscious generated.
During this analysis stage, I might notice an unusual connection, so I ask myself where it may have originated. This happened for me when I looked at “answer-trip.” Where the heck did that come from? For me, it likely has to do with how I view learning, or finding answers. I often associate the search for answers as taking a trip.

Or I might see a brand new association which sparks more neuron action, and suddenly I have another connection. For example, when I looked at my list and saw “stuff-closet-space,” I thought of George Carlin’s famous comedy routine on “stuff.” That, in turn, can take me down a whole new road of brain analyzing adventure. (In this case, it’s even better because Carlin was a master at creating interesting associations based on his observation of the world around him.)

Another example is that a word association might help create a useful analogy. Can you look at my list and see where I may have made the connection to the basic analogy I’m using throughout this post?

Of course, I could go on and on about my list, but it’s your turn now. Create your own word association list and analyze your connections. If you want, feel free to post your list of 10 words in the comments section and share an insight you gained from analyzing your list. This will give everyone even more evidence to see how useful this technique can be.

Have fun with this and before you know it, you’ll be a smooth-running, fine-tuned creativity machine.