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The Osborn checklist as a creativity tool

If you want to be at the forefront of the digital age, you should be a bit of a nutter! Yes, exactly: If you want to be innovative, you always have to be a bit extravagant, i.e. think visionary and out-of-the-box. The former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt once said: “If you have visions, you have to go to the doctor.” But I am convinced: without visions, it is possible that you will soon be faced with the fact of having to discontinue your business in the age of digitalisation. Companies that do not permanently work on innovations will not survive in the market.

The Osborn Checklist is a great tool to jump-start creativity. Try to apply it and use it when working on and developing new products, business areas, processes or company structures. The Osborn Checklist is suitable for working in a team, but it can also be an important stimulus for creative thought experiments.

The Osborn Checklist is a creativity tool
technique that can systematically provide
ideas for new products or processes by
means of a playful, experimental
modifications of existing products and
processes. This technique, which is to be
understood as a guide to applied
ingenuity, was introduced by Alex Osborn
around 1957.


Ask yourself – based on your business, your services, your craft, your tool, your target group and so on – the following questions:


Can the topic, product which is being discussed be used somewhere else or in a different way? Can I turn my competence, my knowledge, into sales somewhere else?

Example: A credit card manufacturer suddenly produces ‘tick cards’ which you can use pull the little pests out of your skin. Now available in every pharmacy.


Is the idea similar to an existing idea? Can a new feature be derived from another idea?

Just like a bakery, a pharmacy now also brings products directly to your home.

Question: Can your customers also make appointments online, like restaurants?


Is it possible to change or transform a feature, application, usage, colour, movement, sound, smell, form?

Example 1: If you only change the lenses of a pair of classic glasses, they become sunglasses or 3D glasses.

Example 2: If you paint a London taxi pink, it becomes Karma Kabs.


What can be enlarged? What can be added? More time? Strength? Height? Length? Mike it double? Multiply it? Exaggerate the size?

Example 1: By increasing the size, small Post-it notes become Post-it flipchart papers.

Example 2: By increasing the caffeine content, the idea of Fritz-Cola arose.

Example 3: Aldi expands its business and builds petrol stations.


What can be taken away? Make it smaller? More compact? Shorter? Split it into smaller sizes? Undersize?

Example 1: The classic “Coke” becomes “Coke Zero” by “reducing” the sugar.

Example 2: At Motel One, the effort for customers and employees has been reduced. Payment is made at check-in. After the overnight stay, the customer can leave the hotel without having to go to reception again.

Example 3: In Switzerland, freight transport is being reduced. In the future, autonomous wagons will travel under the Alps and transport goods.


What can be replaced about the idea? Other material? Another process? Other spatial conditions?

Example: Mineral water without carrying crates – instead, the carbonic acid is added by the water bubbler itself.


Can parts or whole components be exchanged? Insert other structures? Create another texture?

Example: The classic aspirin tablet becomes aspirin granules by changing the aggregate state.


Can poles be exchanged? What about the opposite? Backwards instead of forwards? Turn something around completely?

For example, winegrowers have been using drones that check the temperature of the vines’ leaves from the sky via infrared. In the past, each leaf had to be carefully examined individually. The turnaround from close observation to observation from a distance now saves the winegrowers a lot of time and effort.


Can you combine units? Can you relate ideas or people?

Example 1: The alarm clock and the radio become the radio alarm clock.

Example 2: The Finnish post office trains postmen and postwomen to become care workers. In rural areas, they can now not only deliver the mail but also take care of old people.

Example 3: Architect Richard Meier uses seaweed balls washed up from the sea as insulation material. A combination with several advantages: The seaweed balls do not burn, have a high insulating value and are ecologically degradable.

Give it a shot and try it out!