Name at least 10 ways to use a brick. Take a couple minutes and write them down. If you don’t get 10, that’s ok.
Here’s a list I quickly made up.
- window breaker
- block for building a wall
- Weight for muscle training
- shoes for a low gravity planet
- Sundial (if stood on end)
- Writing Utensil on a rough surface
- Toy Boat for a sea of mercury
- Temperature regulator (Hot Pack/Cold Pack – Freeze the brick to keep things cold or heat it up and drop it in a container to keep it warm)
- Electrical Insulator (Use for a capacitor or transformer)
- Thermal Insulator -keep Hot from Cold
- Serving Tray in Kitchen
Odds are, the first few ideas on your list are the same as mine. You also probably had a tough time getting past the first four or five, right? That’s actually totally normal. The first ideas are the ones that everyone has. The next ones are the ones that are the money-makers, the ideas others didn’t think of. But getting that next batch of ideas is hard work. It takes time and effort.
So, how do you get past the first few ‘meh’ ideas and get to the good ones?
Before we look at that, let’s look at what we do to get the first 4 or 5.
In our Mind’s Eye, we hold the brick in our hand, looking at it from 2 to 3 feet away, simultaneously thinking how this is good building material. In other words what we do is, (a) focus on one main trait/attribute and let that guide our ideation process. In the case of a brick we focus on the weight and/or hardness. We also put the brick where we typically see it. We (b) see it in a specific context: in this case, the construction realm. Thirdly, we (c) look at the wholeness of the object – in this case the brick as a rectangular block of material.
The way to get better ideas is to vary each one of the above three perspectives: A.C.E. – (Attributes, Context, Everything (not the Whole thing))
Doing this will break through the ‘meh’ stage and give you much more creative ideas.
(a) Look at various Attributes
So, what are the attributes of a brick, or any object for that matter (I realize there is some overlap between these but sometimes it helps to call the attributes different things)?
- Color/Reflectivity/Optical Properties
- Mechanical Properties (will it behave differently when we push on it, pull on it or shear it)
- Fracture Properties (How it breaks)
- Thermal properties
- Fire Resistance
- Electrical Properties
- Magnetic Properties
- Acoustic Properties
- Chemical Properties
- Emotions it elicits
- All of the above at various scales – from macro to micro. Bricks aren’t perfectly homogeneous. Different parts of a brick can behave differently.
Look at the various attributes and ideate around those – individually or in aggregate. Truly observe! Understand what goes into the product. Once you understand the brick your eyes will be opened to ways you can modify and leverage what the brick is.
What’s the shape of the brick? Is the brick REALLY hard, or does it has softness to it? What does it take to deform the brick and mar the surface? Bricks can hold and/or prevent temperature transfer depending on the context. They also don’t conduct electricity all that well. Do they change color under certain circumstances? Do they change their smell under certain stresses? Do bricks fracture at certain loads so that they can be used as indicators? What do they taste like? (You lick a brick at your own risk.😉 )
(b) Look at alternate Contexts
Put the brick into various contexts and you’ll be surprised how quickly the ideas start flowing. Is it a yard, a different planet, an imaginary place, a street, a kitchen, an operating room? Are these contexts cold, hot, well lit, dimly lit, windy, calm, etc.? All these variables will impact the types of ideas you come up with.
For example, I put it the brick in a kitchen and hence came up with using it as a serving tray and/or thermal stabilizer. (Also, bricks can exhibit efflorescence. Salts can come to the surface, so this can flavor food – provided the rest of the materials in the brick aren’t poisonous😉 ) When I thought of it in a street, I thought of rubbing it on the street to make drawings. In an operating room I thought of it being heated up and placed under the surgical drapes to keep patients warm. (I came up with another idea but I’ll include it below.)
(c) Look at Everything (not the whole thing)
Finally, what can we change – modify, add, subtract, etc. from any of the above attributes, components, systems or sub-systems to make it useful? (Place these in various contexts to multiply the power of this exercise.) Look beyond it simply being a block held at arms length. Re-imagine it!
Can we change its usefulness by breaking it up? (I often take brick chunks, break them more and use the fragments to line the bottom of planters. Broken shards of brick can also be amazingly sharp!)
We could also grind it up and add it to food to change the way it’s cooked and digested. (Depending on the chemical composition of the brick this might not be a safe idea so don’t try this at home/work/etc.!) Revisiting the operating room context, we could grind up the brick and weave it into the material of the surgical drapes to make the drapes more effective insulators.
The whole purpose of using A.C.E. is to get us past the obvious and into the realm of innovation. Just using one of these will help, but when you use all three in conjunction, your ideas will flow and be more original.
Try it! Would love to know your thoughts!