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An obstruction is an unexpected obstacle or restriction, which is used to generate momentum and enhance creativity in the ideation process. Obstructions are particularly effective when preconceived notions and fixed assumptions become a hindrance for the creative process and for developing new solutions.

Obstructions can be used in brainstorming, when the students have begun their idea development, but the development process has stalled a bit, is going around in circles, or when inspiration is needed. In order to set a frame for the brainstorm use this method: How might we …?.


Consider preparing your obstructions before starting the idea development. Please note that obstructions should be carefully chosen and that they can be quite manipulative. As a teacher / facilitator please avoid suggesting ideas or judging the ideas, because it should be the students themselves who generate the ideas, and the quality of the ideas should be tested outside the classroom with users and other relevant stakeholders.

1. Have the students to reformulate their problem or project goal as a phrase starting with “How might we …”, e.g.: “How might we attract more visitors to our website?”

2. The students are to now choose the best “How might we …” phrase.

3. Then present the brainstorming rules:

  • Defer Judgement – Don’t judge your own ideas or those of others
  • Go for volume – 100 better than 10
  • One conversation at a time – focus
  • Encourage wild ideas – the crazier the better
  • Build on the ideas of others – leverage perspectives
  • Stay on topic – stick to the “how” problem
  • Be visual – communicate your ideas for teammates by sketching

(Source:, Stanford University)

4. Students should now begin by jotting ideas down on Post-its and then sticking them up onto flip charts. Provide a time limit of 10 minutes, so they don’t over sensor themselves.

5. Now formulate an obstruction, which “disturbs” the students’ process. It must be a new constraint or a changed focus in relation to student projects e.g. regarding topics such as: function, target group, choice of material, etc. – This highly depends on the context, but here are some examples:

  • “The solution must only be analogue”
  • “The target group is 70+ years old”
  • “The target group is children of 5 years”
  • “The solution must incorporate daily physical movement for the user”
  • “The solution must be powered by solar energy”

6. Repeat several rounds using different obstructions each time, where each round lasts 5 minutes. But the entire session shouldn’t last longer than 45 minutes in total.

Worth Considering

Look into Inspiration Cards, which is another good way of interfering with ideation.


Preparing a few well-considered, good and relevant obstructions beforehand will benefit the idea development process as a whole.


Amabile, T. Creativity in context. Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1996.

Onarheim, B. & Wiltschnig S. Opening and Constraining: Constraints and Their Role in Creative Processes. In: DESIRE ’10, 2010.

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