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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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Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

Why is multitasking a myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your brain on multi-tasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why multitasking is failing you

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to stop multitasking and work productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The key to productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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