Good ideas are important because they solve a need or a problem far more efficiently than poor or existing ones. We need ideas for everything – our business, projects, websites, blog posts, marketing strategies, brand names, everything. Yet, we have had to experience times when we had an absolute drought of ideas. To counter this, we constantly find ourselves searching the internet, attending seminars and asking experts on ‘how to come up with good ideas.’
Nobody is a born idea generator. Generating ideas is a process and requires will and perseverance. It also requires broadmindedness and the inclination to learn and know about different subjects and things.
I am outlining below some ways to generate great ideas on a regular basis:
Realise your forte
Just like we all have a way with words, we have our very own way with ideas and thoughts too. Some of us are more imaginative than others while others have a tendency to relate facts to create meaningful patterns. Ideas emerge from both the left brain and the right or, in other words, they could be purely creative or purely functional and practical. Irrespective of what you may need the idea for, you should establish your forte first and then choose the ways to develop new ideas. If you are creatively inclined and can see another dimension of reality, then your forte could be ideas which are heavy on the creative element and may need a lot of execution after conception. If you are a solution finder, then your ideas would always be directed by the need to find process improvements or solutions to challenges. That doesn’t mean that we can’t look at challenges both creatively and rationally. We can.
Edward de Bono, the educationalist who has written extensively on thinking (and why so few of us do it well), had written a book called Six Thinking Hats to encourage people to think about things by looking at a challenge in six different ways. The premise of the method was that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways and approaching a problem from one direction would be sub-optimal. According to de Bono, ‘Six Thinking Hats is a simple, effective parallel thinking process that helps people be more productive, focussed, and mindfully involved. A powerful tool set, which once learned can be applied immediately!
You and your team members can learn how to separate thinking into six clear functions and roles. Each thinking role is identified with a colored symbolic “thinking hat.” By mentally wearing and switching “hats,” you can easily focus or redirect thoughts, the conversation, or the meeting.
* White Hat: The White Hat calls for information known or needed. “The facts, just the facts.”
* Yellow Hat: The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit.
* Black Hat: The Black Hat is judgment – the devil’s advocate or why something may not work. Spot the difficulties and dangers; where things might go wrong. Probably the most powerful and useful of the Hats but a problem if overused.
* Red Hat: The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings and share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates.
* Green Hat: The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It’s an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.
* Blue Hat: The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It’s the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats® guidelines are observed.’
There are numerous ways in which one can come out with ideas – I find de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats process a fairly interesting one, and while what I have outlined above may not seem too coherent, you could look up the model online or buy the de Bono book.
Have frequent brainstorming sessions – daily, if possible
Brainstorming is one of the most tried and tested way of coming up with new ideas. Our brain has the capacity to process multitudes of information and develop coherent thoughts of it. All that is required is a focussed approach and correct direction of processing thoughts. When you brainstorm, you process multiple facts and notions and string them along into relevant ideas and information. If you brainstorm infrequently then the frequency of new idea generation also declines. However, if you make it a habit of brainstorming daily, even if for a few minutes, then new and better ideas can automatically start flowing.
While you can brainstorm alone, the ideal way of doing it is in a group. Identify a need or a problem and generate as many ideas around it as possible. You could do it without any guidelines or you could follow a specific model like Six Thinking Hats.
Discuss and collaborate
The ambition of being the creator of exceptional and excellent ideas is always too overwhelming and prohibits people from collaborating and discussing their ideas with others. This, in turn, stunts the rate at which new ideas can be developed. Hence you must let go of your ego and inhibition of interacting with others and adopt a regular practice of deliberating your ideas with peers, friends and other experts. The best outcome of discussing ideas is that new aspects get added to your original idea and you may end up developing unique and intriguing ideas and solutions that are also high on practicality.
Record all the ideas that you come across
In order to increase the number of ideas you can produce on an average, start recording all thoughts and ideas that occur to you. Many great authors and creative minds make it a habit of keeping diaries or pieces of paper handy to scribble their random thoughts on. These thoughts can eventually transform into groundbreaking ideas, with analysis and evaluation. In today’s tech-savvy world, however, you need not maintain a diary and pen on your person. All you have to do is send a memo to self on your smart phone whenever an idea occurs to you.
Expose yourself to new stimuli
To continually develop new ideas, you need inspiration and external stimuli that can help your creative juices to flow freely. However strong your imagination may be, you can always use a few triggers and pointers from the real world to develop ideas. Therefore, be prepared to expose yourself to new experiences and knowledge to have more raw materials for the generation of good ideas. Some of the exceptionally good ways to inspire a good idea out of you are the following:
* Engage in adventure sports – adrenaline can open you up to many radical ideas
* Listen to versatile music, be it pop, rock, classical, rap; anything that sooths your brain and calm you enough to use your mind creatively
* Try cooking something – experts believe that culinary adventures for the uninitiated can really activate your creative side
* Meet new people – this may be the oldest formula in the book of ideation, but meeting new people and interacting with relative strangers can at times open you up to new perspectives and possibilities, fuelling idea generation
Don’t worry if some of your ideas seem unworkable
Despite your best efforts, there is no guarantee that every idea that your brain will ever emit will be a stroke of brilliance. If you practice regular brainstorming and constantly expose yourself to new experiences, the frequency of ideas will increase. But most of these ideas will not match your own perfection standards. Some may even disappoint you enough to discourage further ideation. What you need to remember at this juncture is that bad ideas are part of the journey and can one day become good ideas as well. 50 years ago, for instance, the idea of a cellular device that could be used for mobile communication would have seemed absurd or stuff of science fiction. But today it is not just a reality but also a way of life. Thus, your focus should be on coming up with all kinds of ideas, even the absurd ones because, one day, they may turn into million-dollar ideas.
In fact, NEVER discard thoughts and ideas that seem absurd on the face of it; you never know, these seemingly unworkable ideas could just be the genesis of a genuine breakthrough. It was Einstein who said – “If, at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
Let the thoughts simmer
If you are grappling with a challenge and have not got a breakthrough idea, calmly forget about it. Do not get frustrated. Let it simmer in the sub-conscious. Go about your business. Suddenly, the idea will come through as if it was there all the time. Many of the best ideas that have come to great minds would have seem serendipitous or happening by chance; yet, it is likely that the idea came because of the amount of thinking that preceded the breakthrough moment.
The world has progressed due to ideas, big and small, major and minor. Human beings are programmed to think and all of us must do just that to come out with ideas and solutions. Our ideas, if meaningfully implemented, will help us and the world at large. All that is required is the will and a systematic process.
Visual Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/small_realm/