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5 Ways to Create Better Ideas

5 Ways to Create Better Ideas

Almost everybody want to have better ideas and lots of them. You hear all sorts of analogies when it comes to producing better ideas, “think outside the box”, “look at it from another angle”, etc. All of them have their validity but often leaves you feeling drained and stupid. Why can’t I think outside the box? What is the box? Where is the “other” angle? Are creativity and idea creation perhaps for a select few? A rare breed of creative geniuses? I say definitely not. Armed with a few new ideas you can become more creative than you ever have been before. And the good news is that it’s not very difficult and it can be fun too.

The biggest problem with not coming up with new and better ideas is that your brain is basically lazy. It will keep to the same thinking patterns as much as it can.

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“Problems cannot be solved with more of the same thinking that created them.” – Einstein

Keeping to the same thinking will produce more of the same types of ideas. The revolutionary ideas will not likely come at all. The reason your brain sticks to the same thought patterns is that you are feeding it the same kind of input all the time. More of the same input will make sure that your brain sticks to the same thought patterns. A second very important component in idea creation is volume. Not every idea you get will be brilliant, but by increasing the number of ideas you will naturally increase the number of good ideas as well. Quite simple really.

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So, now we know that to create better ideas we need to change our thought patterns and at the same time generate more ideas. Incidently this can be done by the same change. You need to change the input, without changing the input you will be stuck. It all sounds pretty easy when you know the answer and implementing it is quite easy as well.

Here are 5 ways to get new input that will have you creating more and better ideas continuously.

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  1. Choose a new way to get to work. This may seem like a small thing, but by going out of your way to find new ways to get to work you are changing your input naturally. You will see new things, think about new things and make new connections.
  2. Ask a child how they would solve a problem. Children are not stuck in their ways the same way as adults can be. To them everything is possible. Even if the solution they present is not perfect or even practical it is very likely that it will spark new ideas in your own head.
  3. Pick a random magazine to read. Computer programmers have their own favorite magazines, architects know which magazines are hot for architecture and so on. The problem with this is that everybody will be subject to the same stream of ideas. By going into a magazine store and randomly picking a magazine that might be about knitting and then actually reading it you will most likely find that the things you are thinking about have been solved already in another domain. Free ideas (except for the price of the magazine)!
  4. Force yourself to make connections. This is a little game you can play with yourself, pick random things around your house (or even better, out of a bag) and force yourself to make connections between the object and the problem or project you are working on. Keep doing it for 10-15 minutes and see what happens.
  5. Self impose limits. By imposing limits on yourself your brain will have to work overtime and really get out of its own patterns. If you work with tools, remove the tool you use most frequently and ask yourself how you can accomplish a task in this new situation. Or, why not force yourself to explain a problem without using “shop talk”.

What next?

The ideas above can of course be refined and substituted for lots of other ideas. As long as what you do forces new input on you, you will benefit. Also remember that it will be up to you to sort through and pick the best ideas. At least this way you will have more of them and they will be influenced by a larger space of knowledge and that is the key.

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What do you do to get better ideas?

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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