Ideatoon Logo

from "Thinkertoys"
by Michael Michalko - Published by Ten Speed Press (c) 1991

"Therefore, when I have won a victory I do not repeat my tactics but rearrange them to circumstances in an infinite variety of ways.
- Sun Tzu: The Art of War


We think in different ways and two complementary modes are visual thinking and verbal thinking.

The method liberates your thinking from the world of words by utilising the power of patterns, shapes and pictures. Pattern language is a visual thinking technique, and its visual, flexible nature makes it a useful creative device for seeing new and different relationships between attributes.

This language consists of a number of abstract visual symbls which you create to substitute for words. Do not dwell on drawing like an expert - your drawing skills are not crucial. The only consideration is what the graphic representations mean to you.


Sun Ideatoons Blueprint

1. Divide your challenge into attributes.

2. Describe each attribute by drawing an abstract graphic symbol. Each drawing should represent a specific attribute and be on a separate index card. Draw whatever feels right for you. Allow the image of the attribute to emerge in its own way - to state what is wants to say. On the back of the card, write the attribute.

3. Place all of the file cards on a table with the graphic symbols facing up. Group and regroup the symbols randomly into various relationships. Try letting the cards arrange themselves without conscious direction, as if they were telling you where they wanted to be. Mix and match the symbols to provoke ideas.

4. Look for ideas and thoughts that you can link to your challenge. Try to force relationships. Try free-associating, Record the most idea-provoking arrangements.

5. When stalemated, you may want to add other Ideatoons or even start an entirely new set. A New Hampshire banker who wanted to solve the problem of stolen checks used several different sets of Ideatons to search for a solution. Finally the act of using pictures itself prompted him to think of the answer.

The idea: He invented a system that lets banks print customer's pictures on their checks.

Card Image Card Image Card Image

Physically rearranging your cards will invent new relationships and provoke new ideas. Try turning your symbols upside down and sideways to generate new patterns. Juggle the symbols and test the limits of your imagination.

Ideatoons is a device that allows you to express, see and think about your business challenge in a different and unique way by seasoning your challenge with the sauce of pictures.

Pattern language increases your capacity to divide whole into parts and regroup the parts into a variety of new patterns. Symbols also help you develop a deeper insight into any situation.

Pictures stimulate your imagination and provide a pleasant change after being deluged with words. Pictures permit you to look at challenges with a fresh pair of eyes. You may see the idea bouncing around on your desk like a chicken trying to avoid becoming Sunday dinner.


Coffee Exercises

1. A delegation of Martians has just landed in the middle of your home town. They do not understand any Earth languages - only graphic symbols. Prepare a short speech composed of graphic symbols to welcome them and tell them just what kind of place you live in. (Feel free to send me copies of what you draw - contact the address shown below).

2. Draw Ideatoons for all the attributes of your professional situation. Devise some pictures for the different people you deal with...the products, things, tools and concepts assosiated with your work.

3. Invent a card game using your Ideatoons. Perhaps you could develop a family pack of cards? With the festive season approaching, how about making your own Ideatoon Christmas / New Year/ Seasons Greeting cards?

Return to the list of Techniques


Last updated: 6th November 1997

Send your comments and ideas to Charles Cave.