Inkblot test – activate your imagination

You’re probably aware of the Rorschach Inkblot Test. It’s the classic psychological test that’s often used in films to find out if someone is a psychopath. If their answer is “the mutilated corpse of my mother” to the question “what do you see in this image?”, then they’re beyond all hope of redemption apparently. But we’re going to use it in a much more positive way to access your imagination rather than your murderous impulses.

The test has the original 10 inkblots created by Hermann Rorschach in the 1920s. But the way we’ll be using it goes back beyond his time. It is thought that Rorschach was inspired by a book of poems by Justinus Kerner, where each composition has been inspired by an accidental inkblot. Or maybe by Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test, who used inkblot tests as a way of measuring creativity. So we’re returning to the original use of these random splodges.

You can play with the test right below this paragraph. Just click on the button to get a new inkblot. If it looks a bit weird on your device – or you’d prefer to use a clean version – scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the button to open the tool in a new window.

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How to use the inkblot test

We’ll be using the random images to drive your imagination. Each image appears both upright and inverted (because it’s easier to rotate an image in Photoshop than it is to turn your monitor upside down). There are several ways of using the inkblots. I’ll outline a couple of them here.


Storytelling prompt

Take a look at one of the inkblots and see what you can spot in it. You might want to give it a minute or two. If you don’t like the first thing that springs to mind (too much blood, perhaps) keep looking until you have something you’re happy with. Let me give you an example.

The first thing I got from this was a man in a tuxedo looking at himself in the mirror while he’s washing his hands in the sink. The red blotch in front if him represents his beating heart pounding in his chest because he has just seen the most beautiful girl on the dance floor. He’s currently practicing his opening line to her before he goes back outside to try to win her heart.


    You can immediately see that this gives us the bones of a story. We can now fill in his backstory, what happened before this point, why he’s at this event, what the event is and what the outcome is. This could be a nice little tale, if we spent time crafting it. I recommend that you try to stick with your inkblot and put the work in to find a story rather than keep skipping until you find something that instantly inspires you. 
    If you’re stuck in your writing, this kind of exercise might just give you the nudge you need to push your story in a fresh direction.

Problem-solving inspiration

Take the first prompt you get in the inkblot test and start writing down all the things you see in it. These may be physical, emotional, fantastical or whatever. You may need to loosen up your literal mind to get the juices flowing. It’s probably best to do this as individuals because you’ll probably have the urge to self-censor if you’re doing it as a group. Everything is potentially useful, so just write it down. Set yourself a time limit or – even better – a challenge to come up with a certain number of suggestions.

Now take each of the things you’ve listed and apply the to your problem to see where it takes you.

Here’s an example with a different inkbot.

My list of things I see (or imagine or infer or feel) from the image are:

  • A diamond
  • A spinning top
  • A slug
  • Big eyes
  • A big strong man
  • A gun being fired
  • Africa
  • A cruise liner
  • The devil
  • A big nose
  • The space shuttle
  • Extreme happiness
  • Hair
  • TV antenna
  • A sumo wrestler

To get this list, I looked a details from the image as well as the image in its entireity. I looked at the negative space as well as the ink itself. And it didn’t take me too long to list fifteen items.

Now let’s imagine my problem is to come up with a marketing idea for a new kind of low calorie flavoured nacho. We would go through our list and spend some time with each item, writing down whatever ideas it gives us. Some may not inspire you at all while others could give you an explosion of ideas. That’s normal. Here are some quick ideas I got from a couple of the prompts:

  • A big strong man – We have a muscleman training at the gym. He needs lots of calories for his exercise regime. We see him eat a pack of nachos. It didn’t satisfy him because it’s low calorie. So he eats another pack. And another. He ends up with a pile of empty bags at his feet.
  • A big strong man – We see a strongman pulling a truck. It looks like a classic ‘World’s Strongest Man’ feat of strength. We pull out to see that it’s a delivery truck with the company logo on the side. He’s dragged it to his house. We then cut to a delivery man coming out of a supermarket with his clipboard to find that his truck has gone missing.
  • The devil – We see the devil on someone’s shoulder. He’s trying to tempt someone to have a pack of nachos. We cut to the angel on the other shoulder who agrees that the person should have nachos. The devil is confused. He doesn’t realise that these nachos are so low in calories that they’re good rather than bad for you.
  • The space shuttle – We see someone in the cockpit of a spaceship. The bag of nachos is floating in front of the person as if it’s weightless. They reach out and grab it. We then discover that the spaceship is still on the ground and that the guy is only a NASA cleaner in overalls. The bag of nachos were floating because they’re so light in calories.


Hopefully, you get the idea by now. But if I was doing this for real, I would come up with dozens of ideas to find the good stuff. If I ran out of inspiration from the prompts I’d created, I’d do an exercise to produce more prompts. It’s all about exploring broadly and going to mental territories you wouldn’t normally visit.

This approach isn’t just for marketing ideas. You could use this for engineering problems, developing new processes or anything else you can imagine. It’s all about pushing your thinking into unexpected and previously unexplored places. Because that’s what the opportunities lie.


When to use this story idea generator

  • As a regular creative exercise to develop your storytelling abilities 
  • As a writing tool to nudge you out of a rut
  • As an idea-generation exercise for any kind of problem
  • As a prompt to get to new marketing concepts
  • As a tool to discover which one of your colleagues is a psychopath
  • As a drinking game (all of my tools seem to work as drinking games!)

More help with creative ideas 

Check out Dave’s book, How To Get To Great Ideas, which has lots more advice, tools and techniques.

You can also find a bunch of other tools I’ve created to help develop your creative abilities and push your thinking in new directions. I keep adding to them whenever I find the time to do a bit of coding, so it’s probably best to keep an eye on my newsletter to see when I release new things.