I consider great ideas to be an art form, and an art form calls for us to put aside our analytic faculties and just absorb the moment. Think of me as a volunteer curator of some thoughts that, hey, might help you bring forth your own great ideas!
Kinds of Great Ideas
There are different kinds of great ideas. For example:
Ideas to Answer a Need. Sometimes we seek a great idea to answer a tough problem. Necessity is the mother of invention, said the ancient Romans and everyone since then. [Which begs the question, who is the father??] In this case, a recommended approach is: pose the problem; collect the information that seems to be relevant; put it aside and do something else; then pick it up again.
For example, blogger Leo Widrich says that he will do research for a blog the first thing in the morning; then go about other business; then return and write the blog. All day long his subconscious has been working on the problem of what he should write, and has done the work for him.
Ideas to Tell a Story. In the context of ideas, “Story” has many meanings. If you’re an author, Story may literally be a story, a work of fiction or a dramatization of facts as in “historical fiction.” If you’re selling a product or service, the Story could be a framework for making the sale (the Futures Company has an interesting webinar on this topic). Or a Story may be simply a memorable way to communicate an idea.
English novelist-screenwriter Neil Gaiman tells a Story about getting great ideas for fiction. He relates a conversation with a classroom full of seven-year-olds, one of whom asked, “where do you get your ideas?” His blog is worth reading, offering ideas like:
– Ask yourself, What If? (What if you woke up with wings? What if your sister turned into a mouse? What if you all found out that your teacher was planning to eat one of you at the end of term – but you didn’t know who?)
– Say to yourself, If Only… (If only real life was like it is in Hollywood musicals. If only I could shrink myself small as a button. If only a ghost would do my homework.)
– I wonder… (I wonder what she does when she’s alone…)
– Put things together that haven’t been together before. (If a person bitten by a werewolf turns into a wolf, what would happen if a goldfish was bitten by a werewolf? What would happen if a chair was bitten by a werewolf?)
Sources of Great Ideas
What we’ve quoted above are some procedures, some processes, to assist particular types of ideas. But what people usually give you are the circumstances or environment that seem to trigger the creative process. The most-quoted examples are:
– Showering. Advocates include Woody Allen with his one-hour soaks and blogger Mitch Ditkoff, who tells us 20 reasons why the shower is the most creative place on Earth. The bathtub will also work – think Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment.
– Running, Skiing, Swimming, Exercising, Driving. Physical activities that require concentration are a good way to achieve distraction. Distraction forces our brains to back off from whatever we’re concerned with so that it can be worked on subconsciously, and so that we may approach it from a fresh perspective when we come back.
– Walking, Traveling. A change of surroundings can cause our brains to reboot and refresh. HuffPost counts walking for Nikola Tesla and a train ride for J. K. Rowling. Even grocery shopping or a farmers market with its sights, sounds and smells might be the break your mind needs.
– Drinking, or Drunk. Two different states of being from the same verb! Stuck on a dilemma? How about a glass of wine?
– Alert Relaxation. This is a tricky one. If you go to sleep you may or may not find yourself charged up with a great idea when you awaken. On the other hand, some folks believe that relaxation itself is the key to unlocking creativity.
Tools for Great Ideas
– Write It Down! The most important tool is to immediately write down ideas that come to you – great ideas, and not-so-great ones too. That means always having something with you at all times that allows you to write down, or type, or dictate those ephemeral thoughts that just might turn out to contain gold. There’s even a note pad you can use in the shower. I haven’t gone that far, but I do keep a spiral pad and pen next to the bed.
– Capture Everything. Don’t be judgmental, trying to filter great ideas at the source. Capture everything you can and then at a later time, sort through and keep the good stuff.
Science Speculation: Great ideas are essential: essential in the way that it takes gametes to create a human being. But those are barely a beginning! Nourishment, development, upbringing, maturation are also necessary. That’s why Thomas Edison said “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Life hacker Derek Sivers expresses a similar idea when he says “Ideas are just a multiplier of execution.”
– Make the soil of your mind fertile for the budding of great ideas.
– Capture those fleeting inspirations by making a note of them.
– Then, don’t leave great ideas on a shelf, but bring them into your life and make the effort to help them achieve their potential.
Where to you get your great ideas? Do you have a favorite place or activity that works well for you?
Drawing Credit: Anonymous, on openclipart.org