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How to Consistently Come Up with Great Ideas

How to Consistently Come Up with Great Ideas

The strangest thing about the process of generating ideas, is that there seems to be a commonly held belief that it is some sort of mystical process, one that is only reserved for the likes of ‘visionaries’ and mad scientists. There is this idea that those kinds of people are the only ones who can come up with great ideas consistently, and even then, only after ‘waiting’ for ‘inspiration’ to strike. This belief is held despite the fact that there are many people who have said outright (and show through their output), that they work hard and sweat for their ideas.

What ideas actually are

My personal opinion is that this belief is held because a lot of people simply do not understand what ideas actually are. My definition of an idea is – a concept that lies in the middle of two other concepts or, put simply – the connection between two concepts.

quote from an old Wired Magazine interview with Steve Jobs sums this concept up perfectly:

Steve Jobs: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

When you come to an understanding of what ideas are (just connections) and start thinking of them in that way, it makes the process of generating them a lot less intimidating. This helps you generate more of them on a consistent basis. Now, the title of this article is ‘How to Consistently Come up with GREAT Ideas’. So while this simple thought process will help to increase your consistency, it won’t necessarily help you to come up with GREAT ideas. This thought process is simply step one.

How to spot and then dig out the truly great ideas

There is a concept that was first introduced by the late Business guru and philosopher, ‘Peter Drucker’, which is commonly referred to as the ‘unexpected success’. The concept that Drucker puts forth in his book, ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship’ is that new ideas for innovation can be had simply by seeking out certain unexpected occurrences in the marketplace that cause a market to rethink itself.

The unexpected success is (in the context of business) the product or service that no one was really paying attention to, that suddenly took off. Examples include, how the initially science oriented computer industry mainly sold to labs until businesses started to show interest, thus birthing the modern computer industry. Or how it was noticed that antibiotics worked just as well on animals as they did on humans, thus creating the largest and most profitable segment in the pharmaceutical industry, selling directly to vets.

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You can apply this concept to any field to help you generate ideas. For example, with blogging – simply look for the new blog posts that are doing very well, which no one really expected to do well. Then find out why they are doing well. Use that knowledge and insight to help you come up with your own great and unique blog posts.

This concept could even be applied to something as rigid as sports coaching. The coach could simply seek out the teams that seemed unlikely to perform well in the sport but recently showed a lot of promise and then find out why. Once he does this, he can then use that insight to create his own ultimate team.

The unexpected success is what you are to spot and then understand in order to create your own great ideas. They are the seeds of great ideas. If you are able to notice an unexpected success and then find out why it succeeded then you will be able to capitalize on it by generating an idea that utilizes the fundamental reasons why the unexpected success succeeded.

The reason why unexpected successes are so effective is that they are current. They highlight what is supposed to be successful right now, instead of what was successful.

Pulling it all together – A step by step process for consistent idea generation

In order for you to be able to consistently generate ideas using the concepts outlined above, you need to have a process. Below i will outline what i have found to be a particularly effective for me, when I’m trying to come up with ideas consistently. These steps allow your mind to create a sort of background process that will consistently bring ideas to you, by first doing a little bit of hard work.

Here are the steps to consistently coming up with great ideas:

Step 1. Choose an area

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This step is straightforward. Select the area that you would like to generate the idea in. Is it blog post ideas, local business ideas? Whatever it is, make sure you have clearly defined an idea area. Try to be as specific as possible. This is very important.

Step 2. Expose yourself to unexpected successes in it

With this step, you may have to go out exploring a little bit, depending on your idea area. Here you will be looking for surprisingly successful things. This could be a local pizza place that has recently opened and just so happens to be serving smoothies. And those smoothies are selling like hot cakes. You have to really be looking hard to spot these and they can sometimes be missed. But generally, you will be looking for things that look out-of-place in the area that you’ve chosen, but are performing well above expectations.

Step 3. Understand why they succeed. Let it all sink in.

This is probably the most difficult of all the steps, as it requires the most analysis. Generally, you can deduce the reasons why something is successful by simply speaking to people who like it and asking them why. This is even easier if the area you are in is in any way connected to social media. For example, with an unexpectedly successful blog post that is being shared a lot, all you would have to do is log onto Facebook or twitter and read the comments. You will likely get a good idea of why it worked.

Whenever you can, try to observe more than you ask questions. People often are not able to accurately articulate why they like or don’t like something very well, so generally observation will serve you better.

This step does require that you use your common sense and look around for clues. It’s tough, no doubt about it. But it’s the price you will have to pay, if you want to generate a great idea.

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Don’t try to come up with ideas at this stage. You are just focused on gathering information and increasing your understanding of the opportunity. Let the background process in your head do its work.

Step 4. Have an idea quota; write ideas down

Now comes the action.

Every day, set out an idea quota within a period of roughly 45 minutes to an hour, where you do nothing but write down ideas about the area that you have chosen. If it’s a local business idea, then write 50 ideas on local businesses within that time frame. Don’t worry about how bad the ideas seem. Just write them down.

Try to be as religious as you can with this. And do it for about 10 days.

Step. 5. Pick the best ones.

Once you have gotten a fair number of ideas written down. Pick out the best ones and start analyzing them. Eliminate as many as you can.

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Once you get down to about 10 ideas. You will likely have some pretty great ones in there.  Use them and see how they perform. If they do well (and i think that they will), then that is great!

It can be done

Ideas are not this mystical concept that come only once in a blue moon. Just like anything in the world, they can be found with enough determination and technique. And found consistently.

Do you have your own idea generation techniques that have been effective for you?

Let me know in the comments!

Featured photo credit:  creative thought via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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