Solo idea generation with Idea Tactics

Solo idea generation with Idea Tactics

Want to use Idea Tactics on your own, but not sure whether it’s just for groups? Don’t worry - this toolkit is great for individuals too! 

The instructions you’ll find on each card in the deck are written with group workshops in mind, but most of the techniques are equally effective for people working alone. 

And the process the deck takes you through - carefully framing your challenge, gathering inspiration, going wide and exploring lots of options before you focus back in - is a great way to approach idea generation whether you’re a big group, a small group, or a lone ranger. 

This post shows you how to adapt cards from Idea Tactics for solo use. It also highlights a small handful of cards that are best avoided when working solo.

OK, let’s begin by looking at some cards in each of the main categories in the deck… 

Prime

Prime cards are designed to get you ready to think creatively - that’s equally valuable whether you’re working in a group or on your own. 

Here are 6 examples of Prime cards that work just as well solo: 

Imperfect Portraits

Just grab a mirror and do a self-portrait. Or sketch a willing person or pet nearby. 

Mood Check-In

Whilst GIFs and memes can be a fun way to approach this exercise in groups, you might prefer to draw something - a simple sketch or pattern - that captures your current mood. 

Thunks

Instead of turning this into a debate, simply pick a Thunk and mull it over on your own. When you’ve settled on your position on one of the questions, challenge yourself to come up with a counter-argument - this will prime your mind for looking at ideas from multiple angles. 

Haiku

Just sit down and write a haiku whenever you need to get back in the creative zone. If nobody else ever sees it, and it ends up scrunched up in a bin somewhere, even better. Why? Wabi Sabi, of course. 

Dream Sketch

This exercise is all about inviting your subconscious along to the party, and if that’s a party of one, that’s fine. In fact, it gives you licence to sketch dream memories that might feel too weird or dark or revealing to share with others, so sometimes it’s even more powerful solo. 

Draw Your Job

The card frames this as a way to build trust and empathy in a group, but it’s a good exercise for self-reflection too - what does your job mean to you? Are there particular skills you want to practise on this project?

Frame

Frame cards give you anchors for your creative process, so you’re always clear on your challenge, your context, and any important constraints. 

Here are 4 examples of Frame cards that work just as well solo: 

Fence the Playground

For this constraint-setting exercise, you can skip steps 2 and 3 from the card, and simply brainstorm a load of constraints you might use to guide your ideas, then pick 1-3 that feel right. 

Normstorming

The essence of this exercise is identifying stale clichés in your space so you can avoid repeating them. Just ignore words like “group”, “share”, and “discuss” on the card, and treat the questions under step 3 as prompts for personal reflection. 

Who, What, Where, Why

When using this card solo, simply treat it as a framework for capturing key information - i.e. gathering and documenting the answers to the questions under step 2. You can ignore steps 3 and 4. 

How Might We?

You can ignore most of the steps on the card when doing this solo. Just try getting in the habit of framing problems/challenges as “How might I…?” before jumping into ideas. Example: “How might I explain how to use Idea Tactics on your own?” 

Explore

Explore cards help you figure out what you already know, and turn that knowledge into artefacts that can fuel loads of ideas. 

All 5 Explore cards work just as well solo:

Mind Map

Just replace “team” / “participants” / “people” for yourself when reading the instructions. If you’re not already a seasoned mind-mapper, expect this to become one of your best-used tools. 

Combinaboards

Simply skip step 4. 

Make a Meme

As with all cards when working solo, treat any instructions that are there to help facilitators as instructions from me to you for how to do the exercise. Simply complete steps 1-3 on your own. 

Fame vs Shame

Use this solo as a simple template for gathering inspiration. Treat the questions under step 2 as prompts for personal reflection. 

Observe/Infer

Begin by reading through the “Start here if your team hasn’t done this before” section on the card so you’re clear on the difference between observation and inference. Then use the “what I see” and “what I think it means” headings any time you want to engage deeply with research - either research you’ve carried out yourself, or information you found elsewhere. 

Diverge

Diverge cards are designed to help you generate lots of possible creative paths, so you don’t jump straight to the most obvious solution. 

There are 5 Diverge cards that perfectly suit solo use:

Crazy Eights

Ignore the instructions provided for facilitators, and fold your own sheet of paper in half 3 times so you have 8 rectangles to sketch ideas in. As you’re working alone, you can technically give yourself as much time as you like for this activity, but doing it at pace helps avoid overthinking - the aim here is to get a good volume of ideas down, fast. Then you can improve or adapt any gems afterwards. 

What Would X Do?

This card encourages you to imagine how famous figures or brands would respond to your brief, and you can just as easily do that on your own. Skip steps 1, 4, and 5, and substitute “they” / “team” for yourself when reading the instructions. If you’re not sure which persona to use, try an online tool like this random character site.

Lotus Blossoms

You won’t be able to do the cross-pollination bit mentioned under step 3 on the card, but otherwise, this technique is a great way to rapidly iterate on your own ideas. Where instructions say things like “ask everyone to write the agreed creative challenge in the centre of the first flower”, just write the challenge in the middle of your own flower, then ideate around it, pick your favourite idea, move it to the centre of your second flower, repeat, and so on. 

Mash-Up

When doing this alone, start by brainstorming as many elements of the human context you’re ideating for as possible. These could be any thoughts, feelings, or behaviours that happen for your audience, in the context where your idea will live. Then pick a context/experience that has no obvious connection with the thing you’re generating ideas for, and repeat this process for that. 

Once you’ve got a bunch of thoughts/feelings/behaviours for each, you’re ready to notice things you can mash together to spark novel solutions. 

Crazy Eights is a nice, quick format for this last key step, but if you’ve got the luxury of a bit more thinking time working alone, try simply going for a walk. You may find that when you get back to your desk, the most fruitful connections and combinations are obvious. 

Worst Idea Race

As it says on the card, this is basically a “Reverse Brainstorm” with a competitive twist. Unfortunately, the competitive “race” bit doesn’t work when it’s just one person, so you’re simply aiming to write 15 bad ideas in 5 minutes or less. And you can always compete with yourself, by aiming for a higher number of bad ideas in 5 minutes next time, or reaching 15 ideas faster.

Stretch

Stretch cards help you push ideas further, whether they’re newborn and raw, or fairly well thought-through. (Secret hack: Stretch your body before doing a Stretch activity - it will loosen your muscles and your mind). 

Here are 4 Stretch cards you can easily use solo:

Analogous Inspiration

This tactic is all about immersing yourself in a different physical setting to find unexpected inspiration. No team needed for this - just you, a notepad and pen, and an open, enquiring mind. (Just ignore any instructions on the card about briefing your group or discussing your findings). 

ProvocaPrompts

As the name suggests, this card provides prompts that nudge you to look at your ideas from different angles - simply take an idea you’re working on and use any of the prompts under step 2 as a starting point for reflecting on your idea and how you could make it stronger. 

Human Truths

Like ProvocaPrompts, this card is essentially a list of prompts/questions - perfect for individual reflection. Use these timeless human truths to think more deeply and expansively about any idea you’re working on. 

Peak-End Rule

This is a great mental model for thinking about any experience that includes multiple moments/interactions. When doing this on your own, the process is exactly the same - just minus discussion. 

Refine

Refine cards help you clarify and communicate ideas. 

Here are the 4 best Refine tactics to use when working solo:

Storyboard

A storyboard is just a fancy format for sketching an idea through time. No accomplices required - just skip the explanations and discussion when doing it solo. 

T-Bar

Same deal as Storyboard - this is really just a template for capturing an idea. You can use it whenever you want to get something out of your head and make it tangible - either to return to later or share with others. 

Mega Memo

You guessed it - another template. Ideation amigos optional. Simply follow the instructions on the card.

Big Beats

You can just follow the instructions on this card, word-for-word, too!

Review 

Getting feedback from others is always valuable, but when you’re working alone, you can still review and prioritise. 

Here are the 4 best Review cards to try solo: 

PrioriTree

Even without the discussion and debate suggested on the card, this is still a great framework for breaking down an idea and separating the essential elements from the “nice-to-haves” or longer-term opportunities. 

Invest Your PipCoins

Got a bunch of ideas and not sure where to put your energy? Use this card to think about downsides vs upsides, and assign a numerical value to each idea (or elements of a single idea). Ignore the steps on the card and simply get yourself in the mindset of every idea being a “bet” - if you had 100 PipCoins (or dollars, or pounds, or anything else that’s valuable to you), which ideas might give you the best return? 

SICFAM

This is another framework to help you rank and prioritise ideas. With a group, you’d add up everyone’s scores; solo, you can just come up with your own ratings for an idea based on the SICFAM criteria listed on the card. It’s still subjective and comes with precisely zero guarantees, but it’s more robust than simple gut feel when you want to work out which idea might have the best chance of success. 

Deep Impact

Simply use the prompts on this card to reflect on the potential impact of an idea. The bigger the scale of your idea (i.e. how many people might end up interacting with it), the more worthwhile it is to spend some time with this card. 

Cards to skip when working solo 

  • Debate club
  • Perform the Problem
  • 6-3-5
  • Angels & Demons 

  • Cards that might feel weird on your own (but you should try anyway) 

    Mind-Body Dissonance - you don’t need an audience to get the cognitive benefits from this one. Try it in front of a mirror. 

    Yes, and… - improv is more fun and more generative when you’re with a group, but you can still build on your own ideas with improvisational thinking. Use this card to dig deeper and push your own ideas further. 

    Like, Wish, Wonder - although this is designed for inviting feedback from others, try coming back to your own ideas after a day or two of working on something else. Imagine your past self as a different person, and use this framework to widen your possibility space. 

    Concerns, Confusions, Conflicts - same as Like, Wish, Wonder, but this time you’re being less kind to your past self and pointing out everything they missed. 

    What about Recipe & Cheatsheet cards? 

    The Recipe cards are designed with groups in mind, so you're better off starting with the Idea Tactics Strategy System card and going from there. You can also invent your own recipes once you're familiar with some of the techniques. 

    Most of the Cheatsheet cards are also focussed on group facilitation, but Invaluable Inputs is worth checking into when ideating solo. 

    Using The Vault

    If you have access to The Vault, the templates on there are designed to be flexible - you can use them solo, or with groups of different sizes; just delete any duplicate sections or sticky notes you don’t need. 

    Keep reading, keep chatting, keep playing 

    You may also like to read my piece exploring the role of group work vs individual work in idea generation and how to best balance these different modes. 

    As per that article:

    “The great thing about being part of the Pip Decks community is that you have direct access to… people around the planet who share a passion for creativity, communication, and doing amazing work. It’s a friendly space where you can ask questions, share challenges, and generally bounce ideas around.” 

    Make the most of it! 


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