“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” ― George Bernard Shaw
Have you ever wondered how to get a great idea?
What is the process of consistently getting ideas that matter and knowing which ones to implement?
Do you get overwhelmed with ideas and do not know how to proceed?
This is part-1 on the 2-part series on generating new ideas.
The ideas in this post are designed to fuel and inspire you to have, maintain and implement your best ideas.
1. When You Receive An Idea, Chase It Down Immediately And Write It Down
“Maybe [artistry] doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished … it starts to change everything.”” — Elizabeth Gilbert, TED talk
The question: Do you have a structure or a system to collect, write down, access and implement your ideas?
A lot of great ideas come to you and then escape your attention and just float away into space if not captured and attended to immediately.
Have you ever made a mental note of an idea only to forget it later and then remember it when someone else implements it? You are not alone in this!
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk, she talks about her meeting with the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone. She tells the story of Ruth working in rural Virginia and she could feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape like a thunderous train of air almost like it was barreling down at her over the landscape.
Ruth would run fast in an attempt to get quickly to paper and pencil to capture the poem when it thundered through her. She explains that at other times, she would not be fast enough and the poem would barrel through her and move on to some other poet.
Your idea arrival may not be quite as dramatic but the point is a very good one. Capture it or lose it. The choice is yours to make!
Be ready with notepad and pen in hand when ideas come to you. Have a method to capture the inspiration that comes to you and a system to meaningfully implement the ideas. You can use the free app Evernote to capture a note or recording if you prefer to go digital.
Personally, I use both conventional methods such as my trusted moleskine notebook and also apps such as Evernote to capture ideas as they come to me.
It is important to have a structure to collect, catalog, access and implement ideas that works for you.
The amazing and famous choreographer Twyla Tharp places cuttings and everything related to a project in a box that she can easily access later.
Ask the following questions:
Is it possible to collect the idea?
Is there something nearby to write it down?
Are you able to find it quickly enough when you need it and are you storing it in a way that you are able to find it easily?
Can you implement some of the ideas in a timely manner? Do not just be a collector of ideas. Be sure to actually do something with them.
“Most ideas are born and lost in isolation.” ― Scott Belsky, Author of Making Ideas Happen
2. Get In The Habit Of Observation And Embrace the Anthropologist Persona
“The Anthropologist brings new learning and insights into the organization by observing human behavior and developing a deep understanding of how people interact physically and emotionally with products, services, and spaces.”- The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman
I was first introduced to the Anthropologist persona in the book, The 10 faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman of the amazing innovation firm, IDEO.
The authors give the example of four Polish employees of a soft drink firm who after watching IDEO’s “The Deep Dive” on ABC’s Nightline decided to use IDEO’s technique of learning from actual customers by observing them in the field.
They went to local train stations where they observed that people were looking at the drinks kiosk, their clock and glancing over to see if the train was coming minutes before their arrival.
By closely observing that people were torn between deciding if they had enough time to get a refreshing soft drink, they had a great idea. They created drink kiosks with huge clocks on them that facilitated the simultaneous observation of the time and the refreshments. As a result, they were able to boost sales.
“We’ve been advocating field observations and quick prototyping for a long time. Sometimes a breakthrough is one small insight away. A simple telling observation—like the train passengers glancing from their watches to the soda kiosks—can make all the difference. Make patient observation and quick prototyping part of your recipe for innovation. You might be surprised by the results.”- The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman
How good are your observation skills? Do you fleetingly pass through things in your life or do you give yourself the opportunity to observe things deeply?
In her book, InGenius, Stanford creativity researcher Tina Seelig tells the story of her father playing a game with her son and his cousins that vastly improved the power of their observation.
Whenever that were at a new place, they were playfully encouraged to observe the space and then close their eyes and recollect everything that they had seen. They would be quizzed on how many windows, doors and lights were present.
Activities such as the one above vastly increase your observation skills and once you increase your awareness and observation, you see things and information that you missed before.
Activities such as bird watching might also be an excellent way to increase your observation skills because it takes attention and honing the observation skills to become good at it.
Increase your skills of observation by paying close attention to the world around you.
3. Are You Asking The Relevant Questions?
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”-Albert Einstein
It is a great idea to question everything and ask a lot of relevant questions. There are too many people out there who think that their opinion does not matter and feel vulnerable asking questions.
Get over your shyness of getting to the bottom or the real reason behind a problem. And if you do not ask and interact, you will never get to the deeper reasons to generate new ideas.
Why is it so?
What does that mean?
How can I solve this?
Where does it happen?
Be open to the idea that not all questions are made equal and the relevant questions make all the difference in generating novel ideas.
4. Should You Go Through With An Idea? Weighing Enthusiasm And Passion vs. Fear Of Criticism and Blame
“A great idea should always be left to steep like loose tea leaves in a teapot for a while to make sure that the tea will be strong enough and that the idea truly is a great one.”― Phoebe Stone
Do you have the passion and persistence to go through the criticism and ridicule of others? If yes, go through with your idea.
Is there an idea that keeps coming back to you in different forms and messages? My philosophy is that if you are unable to shake an idea off and you are always longing to implement it, you should go ahead and give it a try.
Do not allow criticism and blame to weigh your ideas down because the simple truth is that there will always be naysayers out there whether you follow your ideas or not.
What is the single most high impact idea that you have always wanted to follow but were afraid of criticism or failure. Follow it anyways.
“No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.”― Victor Hugo
5. Take A Walk In Nature To relax And Generate That Next Idea
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.” ― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Nature is a wonderful place to shake off your anxieties and let yourself go with the flow of things and be open to new ideas.
There is something inherently relaxing about all the greenery, water and other natural elements that have the possibility of giving you novel ideas.
Take a walk in the woods or include other nature centered activities in your weekly schedule.
6. Change Your Perspective And Look At A Problem With A Different Filter And With New Eyes
The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes. —Marcel Proust
Reframing a problem is a great technique to generate new ideas.
You can accomplish this in several ways:
Zoom in and zoom out from the problem like a photographer. Change the filter and the lens that you look at the problem with.
In the book, 10 faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman, many different personas or lenses that you can use have been described.
Here are some of them:
The Experimenter: Use trial and error and experiment constantly. The authors use the example of BMW that used short films instead of traditional advertising and it was a great success.
The Cross Pollinator: Explore other industries, cultures and practices and use the revelations for generating ideas. An example would be if you travelled to another country or searched in another culture for ideas.
The Collaborator: Bring different groups that would not usually meet and generate solutions and multidisciplinary ideas.
The storyteller: Collect and narrate compelling narratives from real life situations and people to become aware of unique perspectives and develop new ideas. The authors describe how the company Medtronic uses the power of firsthand narratives and from the heart story telling from real patients to innovate and develop new ideas.
Same Problem but different perspectives
Another example that I would like to use here is that of heart disease. Heart disease may be viewed by a Physician as something that can be intervened and treated. The biologist may look at it from the perspective of cells and tissues and how the biology of the heart works. The engineer may look at from the angle of a mechanical pump and how can it work more efficiently much like an engine. The ecologist may ask how changing the environment improves or deteriorates the problem.
Different ideas emerge when you look at a problem through the eyes of someone else.
Look at a problem from the front, side and behind and as many perspectives that you can view it from to gain novel insights and ideas.
Ask: What if I looked at it from the eyes of someone else? What new perspectives and ideas would I generate?
See the problem as a whole or break it up or reduce it to its parts.
7. Do Not Dismiss Your Insane Idea As Impossible, Rather Consider The Possibility That It May Be Possible
“For an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope.”― Albert Einstein
Say YES to a great idea instead of rationalizing why it will not work.
Observe the first reaction to ideas that you have…is it one of dismissal or that of fear? Keep that aside and go with your idea.
Old conditioning and the quick opinion of others may immediately kill an idea before it is born. Guard a new idea like a precious resource. Be careful of which people you confide in and ask for suggestions in the initial delicate stages of idea generation.
Rationalizing away an idea keeps you squarely in your zone of comfort but that is the zone you want to avoid as much as possible.
When Steve Jobs and Apple decided to launch the iPod, the critics were unanimous in rejecting it as an unnecessary device and said that the world did not need another mp3 player. But Steve stuck it out with his idea and revolutionized the music listening industry in the process.
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”― John Cage
Drop off judging an idea unless and until you are able to test out its merits or demerits.
Now over to you. What are some of the ways that you generate and implement new ideas? Let me know in the comments below!
This post is divided into two parts. Here is part 2.