Ideas hold weight.
A great idea captures someone’s attention. It can solve a common problem in a remarkable way. Positioned correctly, it can change a mind. In the right hands it can change the world.
But where do great ideas come from?
This question invites a slew of fluffy responses. Images of lightning striking. Strategies to coax an ever-elusive muse. Talk of inspiration… as if it were a form of divine intervention.
This talk mystifies the relatively straight forward process of generating ideas. That’s why I want to share 10 clear-cut strategies to help you come up with great ideas.
Strategy 1: Seek Out Great Content
In order to come up with exceptional ideas, you must first become a consumer of exceptional ideas. This starts with seeking out good sources of information.
What is a good source? These are publications who consistently put out interesting content. Organizations who posit fascinating ideas. People who you would like to replicate.
Once you find these sources; become a voracious consumer. Devour articles, books, and podcasts from them. Doing this will feed your mind with the raw materials it needs to create awesome ideas of your own.
Strategy 2: Put Your Spin On Someone Else’s Idea
Want to know a secret most “creatives” are afraid to admit?
There is no such thing as an original idea.
This fact may disappoint people with rigid notions of creativity; but it shouldn’t! It simply means that most ideas we consider new or groundbreaking are often older ideas repurposed for a modern audience.
If you stumble across an idea you like, use it. Put your spin on it. Ask yourself if there is something you can add? A different angle you can use to examine it.
This isn’t an invitation for plagiarism. Cite your sources; give proper credit to the people who inspired you. But don’t be afraid to use other people’s ideas. Timeworn stories take on a new life when they are told from a fresh perspective.
Strategy 3: Come Up With A Lot Of “Bad Ideas”
The path to a “great idea” is paved by a trail of “bad ideas”. There is no way around it. If you want to come up with great ideas you need to come up with many bad ones first.
Wrestling with bad ideas is part of the business. It is something that every creative person deals with. Even the pioneers of a field, the ones that seem infallible, likely had more bad ideas than good ones. But as an audience we only see their best work.
If you’re particularly self conscious about your ideas, it can be helpful to lower the stakes. Find ways to embrace your suckage! Bad ideas in large quantities birth great ideas.
Which brings us nicely to the next point.
Strategy 4: Give Yourself An Idea Quota
Writer and Entrepreneur James Altucher challenges his audience to come up with 10 ideas a day. This challenge is an excellent way to flex your idea muscle, I suggest you give it a try.
Or better yet, come up with your own challenge! The details don’t matter much. What is important is that you commit to developing a specific number of ideas every day. It can be 7, 12, 25. Whatever works best for you.
Will most of them stick? Of course not. But there may be nuggets of gold in the masses. To reach them you have to start digging.
Strategy 5: Ask A Lot Of Questions
Remember that annoying kid in school? You know, the one who always had their hand up? The one who bombarded your teacher with questions while you and your classmates sniggered and rolled your eyes?
I want you to be that kid!
Yeah, that person might have annoyed the hell out of you in high school, but I’d bet they were the most knowledgeable person in your class.
At the heart of great ideas is curiosity. The curious mind wants to know everything it can about a subject. And how does it do this? By asking questions… A lot of questions.
Interrogate the subjects you’re interested in. Get to know them from every angle. Ask the silly questions that your loudmouth classmate would be proud of!
Strategy 6: Borrow Ideas From Other Disciplines
I consider myself a serial dabbler. On a given day my curiosity may be piqued Astro Physics, Football stats, and French Films. While some may consider this a form of absent-mindedness, I believe it is a great tool to discover new ideas.
We’re often pressured to stay in one lane, but many of the best ideas are interdisciplinary. They borrow from one subset of knowledge and apply it to another. They find connections between seemingly contrasting fields.
To apply this to your own life, do a survey on the things that interest you. Think of ways that you can apply an idea from one subject you like to another; no matter how unrelated they may appear. You’ll be surprised how often knowledge intersects.
Strategy 7: Seek Out Opposing Views
We live in a world with an abundance of information; and a scarcity of opinions.
Having an internet connection should expose us to a wider variety of ideas. But this wealth of information is often used to affirm our deeply held beliefs and insulate us from different points of view.
While this is unfortunate, it can be a strategic advantage for those brave enough to step outside their self imposed Matrix.
You may not agree with everything you hear, but you’ll be better for hearing it. It gives you a glimpse into the psychology of those you disagree with. And connects you with a wider spectrum of beliefs.
Strategy 8: Look For Ignored Or Unusual Areas In Your Niche
If there is a silver bullet question that will help you come up with great ideas it is this:
What is something important about your subject that you think is ignored or underappreciated?
No matter how much blood or ink has been spilled in your niche, I guarantee there are dark corners that have gone unexplored. Finding them may not be easy, but because few have treaded in the territory it is a great way to find novel ideas.
Strategy 9: Get Feedback From Supportive People
Feedback fortifies ideas. It is the secret ingredients that makes an idea leap from good to great.
Today there is a wellspring of resources online and in person to receive quality feedback.
If you have a friend who you trust share your ideas with them. If you don’t, there are dozens of meetup groups in your area where you can mingle with like minded people.
If you feel more comfortable online, join a forum or message board about an area of interest. There may be some bad apples, but these can still can be a valuable resource to bounce around ideas and get feedback.
Strategy 10: Rediscover The Lost Art Of Observation
When was the last time you put your phone on silent and paid attention to what was going on around you?
You’d be surprised what the world reveals when you care to look.
Observation is the author of many great ideas. Yet it is a dying art. In our distraction fueled world moments of stillness are often avoided.
I encourage you to leave your desk for a couple hours and take a walk. Go to the cafe and people watch. Head to the park with a pen & pad and sketch what you see.
Make idle time on your schedule. The best ideas come when you’re not trying to find them.