The Dictionary Method

The Method in Use (all rights reserved)
Difficulty:  Not really.
Audience:  People wanting to think laterally about a problem or opportunity.
Suggested Time:  5 to 20 minutes.

The Dictionary Method involves identifying a random word, and attempting to see how the word can help to better understand or address a specific challenge or opportunity.  Then identifying another random word and doing it again.  This is repeated a few times, taking notes all the while.

Many of the people who have used this method have been surprised by the results.  For example, people who participated in the Facilitation 101 workshop found this one of the most useful approaches attempted at the workshop.  When used and compared with the Six Thinking Hats and the Creative Whack Pack, a few groups have found the Dictionary Method easier and more likely to generate useful ideas.

One group was dealing with a challenging upcoming project for which a knowledge of government guidelines will be necessary.  The words they found included machete, animal spirit, romance, thalidomide and remount.  All were found to have links to the project - some comical and others serious.

Some people have not been impressed with the technique - the words have not been useful in furthering their understanding and thinking laterally.  This seems to be more likely to happen if the group feels the need to reject a number of words early in the process.

You might like to try it.  You (literally) never know what might eventuate.


1. Agree on the challenge/opportunity.
2. Open the dictionary to a random page.
3. Without looking directly at the page, point a finger at a word.
4. Read out the word and (if necessary) it’s definition
5. Try to figure out what the word could tell you about your challenge/opportunity.
6. Give some time to ponder, but if there is nothing, move on to another word.
7. Finish by identifying highlights of the discussion.
And Again (all rights reserved)