Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 139 / APRIL 1992 / PAGE 104

IdeaFisher. (software package) (Evaluation)
by Anthony Moses

Creative thinking involves not only a goal but also a large amount of healthy mental rambling--a loose, idiosyncratic juggling of words and concepts that you hope will connect to form an actual idea. But the routine of a job doesn't encourage rambling, and if your education has been overly specialized, you may simply not know enough about things even to see the connections. What you need to get creative is a good jolt of lateral thinking--something to question your assumptions, cut through routine thought, and get you back to the fundamental questions about your work. What you may need, in fact, is IdeaFisher.

Developed by Marshall Fisher (cofounder of the Century 21 real estate company), IdeaFisher is based on the theory that the process of listing and associating ideas helps to stimulate the "Eureka!" or "Aha!" response--the moment of illumination, discovery, creation. To this end, IdeaFisher has been designed as, essentially, an electronic brainstormer, a 7MB program containing more than 60,000 words, phrases, and concepts that are extensively cross-referenced to form what is, at the very least, one heck of a thesaurus. But IdeaFisher also contains about 3,000 questions that cross-examine your project's aims and assumptions, inviting you to think more clearly about what you want to do and how you intend to do it.

Suppose you want to develop a new product or service or to devise an advertising strategy--or even to write a story. The first step is to jot down your ideas on the Idea Notepad, a basic word processor built into IdeaFisher. The more specific your ideas, the more IdeaFisher will be able to servey you--and its Qbank can help sharpen your concept. Pull down the Qbank menu and select Orient-Clarify. The Qbank will supply a number of basic questions regarding the aims of your project. For instance, it will ask storywriters, "Are you keeping thesis/antithesis/synthesis in mind? Are your characters' motivations clear?" For people in marketing: "Who is your target audience? How will your product appeal to them? How do you know this?" Answer the questions you think appropriate, and then IdeaFisher will examine your answers, produce a list of your key words and concepts, and append them to your Idea Notepad.

After returning the notepad, you can place the cursor beside any of the words or ideas you want to consider in more detail, and IdeaFisher will go to its Ideabank to provide further lists of words or ideas related to your list--sometimes related in ways you hadn't imagined--any of which may be copied back to the Ideal Notepad. If you'd like to see how two concepts relate to each other, you can use the Compare function to produce even more words and ideas to work form. As you work on your project, you can return to the Qbank for further questions that help you to clarify or modify your aims--or you can personalize IdeaFisher by adding your own questions, words, and key concepts that relate more directly to your specific project.

Don't expect IdeaFisher to assimilate everything, mull it over, and get back to you with the Answer to Your Problem. IdeaFisher doesn't pretend to solve anything. What IdeaFisher does do is to help you make creative associations far more quickly--and perhaps more extensively--than you might make by yourself. You might not know enough about literature, popular art, religion, and sports to imagine how Dorothy and Toto, the Harlem Globetrotters, Garrison Keillor, Nirvana, and Beaver Cleaver could be conceptually related, but IdeaFisher knows and can help you track them down. But the final creative leap--the "Aha!" of recognition or insight--has to be your own, as it should be.

Although the Qbank questions suggest that IdeaFisher was chiefly designed with product development and marketing in mind, its range of possible uses is much larger, including story development, speech writing, and general problem solving. IdeaFisher also has an engaging fiddle-around factor, luring you to browse through the Ideabank's collection of words, phrases, and key concepts, so that it's possible to begin with, for example, the word turtle and follow a trail leading through fiber optics, body language, the Mohs scale of hardness, and the sound of high heels. You may begin to suspect that the United Field Theory--Einstein's elusive, long-sought key to the mysteries of the universe--is lurking in there somewhere.

One friend commented that IdeaFisher's biggest drawback is its 7MB of disk space; others might blanch at IdeaFisher's list price of $595 (the Strategic Planning Module, containing further questions for the Qbank, is $99 extra. True, few people will purchase IdeaFisher as a toy for idel moments, but professionals in various fields might find IdeaFisher well worth the investment. And as a partial substitute for or supplement to a liberal education, IdeaFisher is certainly inexpensive.