9 Ways to Generate Your Best Ideas
Idea generation is often seen as the magic side of creativity, and although I love the magic of it, I also feel like I have learned there is a practical side to it as well.
The great idea spirit seems as unpredictable as the weather. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that idea generation has a mystical side, I just think we have more power to be the catalyst of this spirit than many creatives believe.
Here are 9 ways to flip your own idea generation switch:
1. Think Hard & Then Let Go
This idea comes from Jonah Lehrer in his talk for 99u.com. Basically proof that the epiphany moment actually comes from a state in your mind when you are unfocused!
This is so true because often I will get so worked up trying to come up with an idea, let go, leave the ‘drawing board’ and take a shower or go on a walk and BAM! The idea pops into my head!
2. Brainstorm Ideas You don’t Intend to Use
This is such an important practice and it takes the relaxed approach from number 1 on this list. When you brainstorm ideas that you don’t intend to use, you are free to fail, the pressure is off. This is where the good ideas are often born.
3. Sketchbook / Notepad
Figure out a system that works for you. If you are like me you grew up with a ton of sketchbooks that you started strong with, but only filled in the first couple pages. Start small if it’s a struggle. The true point of this needs to be something you can always have on you to catch those breakthroughs when they happen. I consistently use my iphone to note ideas.
4. Get a Brainstorm Partner
My wife is my brainstorm partner (she doesn’t really have a choice). I run all of my ideas by her, and she is so honest that it used to actually scare me, BUT this is what you are looking for in a brainstorm partner. You need someone who can quickly identify when ideas have no merit at all, and to help you discuss and develop the good ones before you actually get started. You especially need this if you do your primary mental processing externally.
5. Cling to the Constraints
Idea generation can be daunting when the paper is completely blank. A good practice to is to fill that blank sheet with what you do know. If this is for a specific purpose, list the requirements. If this is for yourself, list what you want to get out of it. If this is for a specific topic, list what you already know about it, list what other people have told you, research and list what you can find. Ideas can be so elusive and cloudy, constraints and requirements give us something to hold onto in this uncertain and mystical area. This is a great talk from Katie Hawkins-Gaar on the importance of limitations or constraint.
6. Start with First Idea, Then Go Back to the Drawing Board
Sometimes your best ideas come in the middle of the execution of other ideas. So if you are having a hard time coming up with more than one idea, and you don’t feel good about that idea, just get started anyway. Sometimes the project becomes more clear when you are actually working on it. While you execute that first idea, you may start to understand what’s not working with the idea, and this gives you a good springboard for brainstorming new ideas.
7. Loosen Your Brain with Free Association
Just start writing or talking. This practice loosens my mind. I find it really easy to talk nonsense, if you know me very well at all you probably already know this. Often though in this silliness I find a creative groove. Free association is a Freudian psychological practice where the patient just speaks what comes to mind. Personally I like to get into this pattern and then start the ideation process.
8. Observe the Pattern
Look back, when do you create your best ideas? Sometimes it’s hard to see how it happened, but if you look at enough of these moments a pattern should emerge. For me it has often been a certain type of music, and depending on the type of idea I am looking for, I will put on a specific type of music.
9. Start the Day Over with a Nap
Michael Hyatt, a well known leadership blogger, is a big supporter of daily naps. He even wrote a blog post about it. I can’t say I support daily naps for everyone, I can’t practice it daily, but I do love Winston Churchill’s ideas on napping. He believed it was like starting your day twice. I love this because it’s sort of a restart button on your day. If you have the opportunity and your brain goes into gridlock and you can’t think of any ideas, take a short nap. When you wake up your mind will definitely be in a different place because you literally can’t sleep without your mind changing states.
Learning how to come up with ideas consistently will make or break your creative path, so it’s important to find what works for you.
How did you come up with your best idea?