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simple word salad display


WORD SALAD is one of the most useful all-purpose techniques in the Creative Aerobics Toolbox. It can be used to help a group quickly explore and brainstorm almost any idea, concept, topic, or theme --anything involving the target, the product, the competition, the positioning, or the brand.

WORD SALAD can be used to accomplish two intellectually important functions:

  • get to the heart or core of a topic or issue ("convergent thinking")
  • break mindset and explore interesting new aspects and possibilities of an idea or issue ("divergent thinking")


Identify the keyword(s) or concept(s) that you want the group to explore.

  • Put markers and piles of half-sheets of paper around table/room.
  • Setup flip chart.
  • (Optional) Tear-off many short strips of masking tape and stick along edge of wall where display will be taped up.


1.      Present the keyword/concept to the group. 

2.      Give everyone five minutes to SILENTLY write out what
          comes to mind when they think of the keyword/concept.

    • Instruct them to write ONE word or phrase or drawing per sheet of paper--written large enough to be easily read from a distance.

3.      After participants have begun writing, collect the initial work
          and begin taping the sheets on the wall.

    • Try to "cluster" the sheets by similarity of idea or theme as you tape them up.
    • If the group is very large or the participants are prolific, you will need to recruit one or more people to help you tape the sheets on the wall--after you have established the initial clusters as a reference.
    • Use the previously torn pieces of tape (see preparation) to help you put up sheets as quickly as possible. 
    • Option:  recruit someone to stand by you to tear and hand you pieces of tape.


    • Lead group in reviewing the entire wall display.
    • Point to and quickly read each sheet out loud.
    • Ask the group to identify core ideas and themes--e.g., frequently mentioned ideas or words or words that capture the "essence" of the concept.
    • Record the "core" words, ideas, themes on the flip-chart.
    • Discuss.

5.      BREAKING MINDSET and looking for new avenues of thought

    • Now ask the group to nominate the ideas and themes on the wall that they find to be the most unusual, interesting, or puzzling--e.g., words or ideas that are not typically associated with the concept. Ask authors of puzzling items to  come forward and explain what they were thinking.  Facilitate discussion.
    • Make a list of the most unusual or interesting words on the flip-chart
    • Discuss.  Add to the display or flip-chart list, if you need to.

(6.)   (Optional) Repeat WORD SALAD exercise using the most
          promising of the unusual or interesting words as the "seed." 

    • Look for the core/essence of this new word or idea as well as it's unusual or interesting "edges."
    • By repeating this exercise several times using the most unusual or interesting words produced each time, you lead the thinking further away from the original keyword/concept but in a way that follows a "logic track." The goal is to arrive at an entirely new and interesting place in your thinking.


  • 6 - 25 participants
  • Half-sheets of typing paper (e.g., one or more reams of "legal-size" copy paper [8.5 x 14-inches] cut in half)
  • Markers
  • Masking tape
  • Flip-chart and pad
  • Large unencumbered wall space

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Allen Bukoff, PhD

Creative Commons LicenseWordsalad by Allen Bukoff, PhD
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution
-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License
Creative  Aerobics® is a Registered Trademark of Cloud9, Inc.     

Last updated 17 November 2008