Being Open To Ideas From Unexpected Places

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The Killer Questions are used in the Ideation phase of FIRE. The point of the Killer Questions is to keep you focused on a specific facet of your organization, your customer, your product, or your operations, but at the same time keep your search for ideas expansive within that area. The Killer Questions will help you to look at problems from perspectives you hadn’t previously considered and will keep you open to seeing potential answers that fall outside of your existing assumptions about how and why you do things the way you do.


It is important to realize that ideas can come from unexpected places. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that ideas come from a certain person or department within your organization. Instead, keep your eyes open to the possibility that a great idea can come from a seemingly random place. Use the questions, and be open to being surprised by the answers.

Ideation From The Strangest Experiences

Six or seven years ago I took part in a brainstorming session to come up with ideas for a video about future uses for technology. We went through a few concepts, asking, “What will five years in the future look like?” One of the ideas we all liked was exploring how technology in the home might be integrated with mobile technology in the future. I paused and said, “That triggers something,” and I told the group about an evening earlier that year.

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It was a point in time when I was traveling back and forth between Virginia and California on a weekly basis. On one of these trips, I had arrived home late on a Friday. My oldest daughter, Tara, was home from college. We stayed up and chatted before I crashed for the evening. That night I was asleep for a few hours when I heard footsteps on the tin roof of our house. I went out the back door, dressed only in my boxers, and shined the flashlight on the roof. I was amazed to see a boy tapping on Tara’s window. I shouted up at him, “What are you doing up there?” When he saw me, he turned white, but he managed to squeak out, “Uh, Mr. McKinney, I need to talk to Tara.” Turns out Tara had broken up with him that day, and he was desperate to try to talk her out of her decision.

In the meantime the neighbors have seen the boy’s car parked on the street and have called the local police. The six-foot-four state trooper who got out of the car thought the whole thing was hysterical. At least until I told him, “When your kids start dating, you are going to remember this night!”

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I told this story, then we moved on to other subjects and I forgot about it. But the creative team behind the video project didn’t. A few months later they screened the videos for us and to my shock, one of the videos was about a remote home-security-monitoring device based on “The Boy on the Roof” story. Ideas come from unexpected places; you may have great ones hidden in your own experiences, stories, and observations, but sometimes it can take another pair of eyes and ears to recognize their potential value.

So, when you’re in the Ideation phase it’s critical to be open to the possibility that a great idea will come from a seemingly random place. Don’t discount an idea simply because it isn’t what you expected or it’s not coming from the person or place you assumed it would come from.

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