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Considering the variety of applications you can download for the iPhone and iPod Touch from Apple’s comprehensive AppStore, it was only a matter of time until someone introduced a brainstorming tool for these popular devices: The Idea Generator. Developed by creative consultancy The Director’s Bureau, this intriguing tool uses randomly-displayed words to help you generate ideas for your next creative project.

The user interface of the Idea Generator is a marvel of elegance and simplicity, and it’s fun to use. Three concentric circles fill the screen, emblazoned with random words. Situated horizontally across the middle of the screen is a display bar, which appears to have a magnifier embedded within it. This window displays the words selected by the Idea Generator. At the hub of the wheel is an icon with two arrows, which, when pressed, spins the counter-rotating wheels. You can also spin the wheels by shaking the iPhone, adding a fun element to your brainstorming session. When the wheels stop spinning, the display bar shows three words, which you can use as stepping stones to creative ideas.

For example, one recent session displayed the words “multi-lingual,” “rubber” and “hotel.” Sounds kinky, eh? Actually, you’re not supposed to take the words literally. Their main value is to be a stepping stone to productive ideas. For example, the words multi-lingual and hotel could lead to a new concept for a chain of hotels with the atmosphere of an international youth hostel. Or you might take the word rubber and spend some time thinking about its inherent qualities (cushioning, resilient, etc.), and how you could apply one of those to your current creative challenge.

If none of these randomly-selected words connects with your muse, you can simply push the spin button or shake the iPhone again, and three more random words will appear in the selection window. If you find one or two words that you really like, you can use small lock buttons embedded in the display bar to lock those words in place, and spin the remaining wheels to generate additional keyword stimuli. I found this to be a little bit like playing a hand of poker, in which you hold on to one or two cards, while discarding the rest of your hand and asking the dealer for several new ones. You don’t know what you’re going to get, but there’s always the potential to improve your hand!

The Idea Generator is simple enough that you can begin brainstorming with it immediately. But you can vastly increase its utility by customizing its word database. Clicking a small button in the lower right hand corner of the program’s screen gives you access to a “word lists” screen, where you can delete words from the left, middle and right word lists and add your own ones to customize it to your needs, your industry or your profession. Another possibility is to find a list of words that are known to stimulate creative thought, and add them to your Idea Generator. One source for those is Michael Michalko’s excellent book, Thinkertoys. Another is Gerald Haman’s popular brainstorming tool, the KnowBrainer.

In short, the Idea Generator is a marvelous little tool that can help you to generate valuable ideas and can take your thinking in fresh new directions. It’s available for download from the Apple AppStore, accessible from your iPhone or iPod Touch. At $.99, the Idea Generator one of the least expensive brainstorming tools you’ll find anywhere.

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