I’ve seen a lot of people ask how some entrepreneurs consistently come up with great business ideas. How do successful authors come up with story ideas? How do directors keep coming up with innovative ideas for their movies? Are some people just creative geniuses, while the rest of us are doomed with boring ideas? I don’t think so.
I can’t speak on behalf of other people and I certainly can’t claim to be a creative genius. But I can honestly say that coming up with new ideas is something that is rarely a problem for me. I have too many ideas and not enough time or resources to act on all of them.
The way I look at it, we have different needs for ideas. Sometimes we just need a quick solution to solve a problem. This can be tricky because maybe we are stressed out about it or we are under the pressure of a deadline. Typically these ideas don’t have to be genius ideas, they just need to work.
Other times, we are looking for an idea that doesn’t have a deadline. Like a business idea or an idea for a book or an idea for an invention. This is where we want that genius, million dollar idea.
In this post I’m going to talk about how I come up with all types of ideas. My suggestion is to try anything that sounds appealing to you. What works for one person won’t always work for the next, so stick with what works for you.
Focus on Something Else
One of the best ways I’ve found to solve problems or come up with ideas is to clear my mind.
I’ve noticed that when I get stuck on something that I reach a point where I’m just retracing the same options in my head over and over and over.
When that happens, I know it’s time to just walk away and focus on something else. Or better yet, focus on nothing.
I see this as a good opportunity to walk my dog or go take an Epsom salt bath. Or you can just work on something else and come back to what’s holding you up.
The important thing is that you think about anything other than the problem you are trying to solve or the potential idea you are trying to come up with.
Another way I like to get my creative juices flowing is to think in opposite terms.
For example, if you are coming up with new ideas for a business – research bad ideas. Then figure out what the opposites of those bad ideas would be.
If you are trying to fix something, look at all of the ways you could break it. Then reverse engineer it.
This is a great way for me to get out of the rut of thinking of the same ideas over and over.
One trick I learned from James Altucher to become an idea machine is to write down 10 ideas every day. So that’s something I do now. Every day I write down 10 ideas, usually about blog posts. Sometimes I come up with random business ideas or other random interests, but for the most part I do this daily exercise as a way to generate ideas for blog posts.
Instead of just talking about this exercise, I thought it would be fun to actually demonstrate it. So now I’m going to write down the first 10 ideas that come to my mind that could help you come up with more ideas.
Don’t be disappointed if most of these ideas suck. You only need 1 great idea to make a significant difference.
- Ask for help. Sometimes we just need a second (or third) opinion.
- Take a walk. Sitting is bad for our minds. When you move around, your blood starts pumping faster and you get more oxygen to your brain. Also, taking a walk is a good way for many people to clear their minds.
- Nootropics. Cognitive enhancement has many benefits, including a boost in creativity.
- Do something out of character. What’s something you used to do, but never do anymore? For me, it’s play video games. I enjoyed video games as a kid, but grew to see them as a waste of time. I’ve found that when I pick up the sticks now it makes me feel like a kid again and brings out youthful creativity and eases stress. Find what works for you.
- Walk around the mall. People watching and window shopping both spark ideas for me. It gives me a good idea of what the general public has going on and what people are interested in. (I’m gathering notes on your species for my home-planet)
- Mind-mapping. Create a mind map by writing out your ideas and connecting them to other ideas on a piece of paper. This helps you visualize your ideas and stimulates a different part of your mind.
- Walk in the kitchen and make up something. I don’t know if this will help you, but like I said these are just what are popping up in my head on the fly. When I was a kid I used to make this dish where I put mashed potatoes in a bowl and added pizza rolls. It was delicious. Though, I don’t eat pizza rolls anymore.
- Improve existing things. Some of the best ideas are just small improvements to things that already exist. Find something around you, maybe your phone or chair. How could you improve that product? Do that several times until you’re on a hot streak. Then go back to what you’re working on. How can you improve your original crappy idea?
- Listen to music that inspires you. Something about good music (which is subjective of course) has a way of reaching into your soul. It doesn’t matter what genre you prefer – just sit back, close your eyes and let your mind become one with the music. Creativity is a skill of artists, so I often look to artists for creative inspiration. Art comes in many forms, don’t limit yourself exclusively to music.
- Read biographies. I love to read about the lives of great people. Look for how they came up with their brilliant ideas and how they overcame problems. Most of the time it was something so simple that you realize you have been overlooking.
Well, there you have it. A simple exercise that I’ve found to work well for myself. As James says, most of your ideas won’t be good. However, if you have to go through 1000 ideas to find a million dollar idea – wouldn’t it be worth it? That would be just over 3 months if you were coming up with 10 ideas a day. Give it a shot.
Be in the Moment
Want to know how to consistently come up with great ideas?
This might be the most effective way I come up with ideas, but it’s the hardest to explain.
I come up with my best ideas when I’m not trying to come up with ideas. It’s more of an epiphany.
So how do you come up with great ideas without trying to come up with an idea?
Good question. You have to be in the moment and trust your gut – all the time.
That means you can’t allow yourself to get depressed (thinking about the past) or anxious (thinking about the future). Think about now. What’s going on now? It’s hard for your mind to be creative when it has to think about what you’re doing now and either the past or future as well.
Great ideas never pop in my head when I’m worrying about the past or future. I can’t speak for you, but that is true for me.
I get it, sometimes you have a deadline and you can’t just hope an idea will randomly come to you. That’s what those previous tips were for.
However, I’d be lying if I said that all of my best ideas came from those things I mentioned. The only exception would be the 10 idea exercise, I’ve got some great gems from doing that. Otherwise, the other suggestions are more for problem solving ideas.
When you are actively trying to be the best version of yourself good things just sort of happen. I’m most creative when I’m allowing myself to enjoy being in the moment.
My mind is most dull when I am dwelling on the past or worrying about the future – that’s why I say you’ve got to treat your brain like a muscle. It won’t perform how you want it to if you don’t train it to.
Those people who remain calm when everything around them is in a whirlwind aren’t just born that way, they have disciplined their mind.
It’s not easy to live in the moment when life throws so much pressure and stress your way. It takes a solid effort on your part, but it does get easier with practice.
My question for you is, are your ideas really that bad or are you not taking action on them? How many times have you seen some new product that you had thought of years ago, but never did anything about it?
It’s easy to get caught up chasing the perfect idea. Very rarely do the right ideas start out as perfect ideas. They start out as good ideas that people take action on. Then with some adjustments over time, they become seemingly perfect.
No idea is perfect, they all have flaws. If a few flaws are holding you back from taking action, you’ll never get started.
Otherwise, if you just genuinely can’t come up with ideas – I hope you can use at least one thing I suggested in this post. Let me know what works for you.
Until Next Time,
What do you think? Do you agree, disagree or have any thoughts to add? Let me know in the comments below.
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