Brainstorming Technique 2: Slice and Dice

Our second brainstorming technique in this series also has to do with perceptions and looking at things differently.

As the name implies, this technique requires us to compartmentalize or divide the problem or challenge into smaller more manageable chunks.

The slice and dice technique builds up on something called the Opel-Kundt illusion.

Let us look at the rectangles below. Which one is wider? Now, the person in you who has come across tricky questions like these will say that they are all the same size. But if I were to ask you, which one appears wider, you would probably say the one on your right. The more subdivisions we add to the shape the wider they look to us.


By not changing the actual width of the shape, we still are presented with the illusion of an increase in shape. This concludes that our perspective or the way we look at something and perceive it can be changed by how may divisions that object has.

Let’s take a literal slice and dice example to illustrate this technique. Imagine you are making green beans for dinner, and need to cut approximately 30 beans in half. What are you most likely to do? Take all the beans in a bunch, and try to cut them all together or take 2 or 3 at a time and cut them in batches? Obviously you will take them in batches. Taking all the beans together and trying to cut them would be difficult not to mention dangerous. By taking a few beans at a time, you can cut them with very little effort and it takes no time at all to go through the whole batch.

When you aim to slice and dice a problem that you are facing or a new challenge that has presented itself, the same trick applies. Break down the challenge into smaller chunks and take them on one at a time.

By slicing and dicing ideas during brainstorming, you can come up with better products, better services or solve problems that you may think are too big to solve.

There are a few reasons that this method works amazingly well.

  • It decreases the stress on our brain.

When we look at a big problem or situation, or a big project, it looks intimidating. It looks scary. Being scared causes stress and stress inhibits any creative thinking. So, by breaking the problem down into manageable pieces, we remove the intimidating factor from it.

  • It provides new perspective.

By looking at parts of an idea, problem or challenge, you may be able to devise new and creative ideas by evolving certain parts of it.

  • It may require less work than you thought

When a car breaks down, you do not need to replace your car with a new one. You just need to find the source of the problem and solve that part only. Maybe it’s just the battery that is dead, or the fuel that needs refilling, or one part that needs to be replaced. Looking at each component in isolation may lead to solving a problem by applying effort only in that area. You may find that your problem might not be so huge after all.

Of course, there is a method to conduct this technique effectively. You can’t just go about hacking down your problem without any direction.


Let’s look at the steps in detail with another simple example:

1.   Identify your challenge/problem/idea

For example, let’s take a hammer. Let’s say we want to make a better quality hammer. If you look at the hammer as a whole, it might be tricky to figure out how to improve it. We wouldn’t know where to start, or we might change everything about it to make it better. But what if we were to divide the hammer.

2.   Look at the challenge and assign as many attributes to it as you can.

The best way to slice and dice something is to first look at its different attributes.
Attributes can be physical, for example, how a thing looks. For example, a chair has four legs. It has a seat. It has a back. It is made of hard material.
Attributes can be related to abilities. For example, a fish swims in water. It eats. It runs away from predators. It mates. It uses gills to breathe.
Attributes can also be process related, like manufacturing, marketing, advertising.
They can be also be social, political, or environmental attributes.
The hammer has a few physical attributes.

• It has a wooden handle that is long with ridges to grip it properly
• It has a metallic end, one side of which is blunt and round shaped. That is the end we hammer with.
• On the other side of this end, is a fork shaped tool to pull on any nails.

3.   Now, pick each attribute, and devise ways to improve that attribute.

We are going to do this with each attribute no matter how unrealistic it may be. Do not limit your thinking. Think of how you can make each attribute better. What can you do differently?

Now, if we wanted to make the hammer better, we could either use better wood for the handle or change the ridge design to get a better grip. Alternately, we could use better metal at it’s hammering end etc. Basically, we can pick just one attribute and make it better thus making the whole hammer of a more superior quality.

4.   Do not limit your thinking. Think as unrealistically as possible.

Can you add another attribute to the hammer? Is there something you can add to the hammer to make it even better? A hammer uses nails, so maybe you could add a magnetic disk at the bottom of the hammer handle to hold nails easily while you hammer away.

5.   Pick as many improvements on attributes that you can do and run with it.

Going with the hammer example, let’s say we improve the hammer handle using better wood, better grips and a magnetic nail holder. All of a sudden you have a smarter hammer than what is usually available on the market. You only changed one attribute of the hammer and added another attribute. By dividing the hammer, you could work on different parts and make subtle improvements. But the end result is a hammer with an improvement on quality and usability that is not so subtle.

Overall, the slice and dice technique allows individuals in a group or on their own to look at big problems or challenges in a different light. You can even divide the slices or attributes to different individuals to exclusively improve on their area alone. Parts of a whole come together to make a great idea greater and a big problem smaller.