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How To Come Up With Great Ideas

by Eric Kraus

Whether you are a professional in a career, a student working on a thesis or boot-strapping entrepreneur looking for the next big thing, producing a stream of new ideas may be something you struggle with. You often hear people say, “But I’m just not good at coming up with ideas”. Regardless of the purpose, the process is pretty much the same for everyone: Practice.

We all possess this amazing tool for creativity, our brain. It’s true that some people are better at ideas than others. It doesn’t come from some innate power where ideas just come to them. It comes from their approach and practice toward problem solving.

Here are some suggestions to rev up your own creative engine.

Start mental exercises 

  • Write problems down on a piece of paper or at the top of a page in OneNote, Evernote, etc. This will help you keep track, but also being clear on the problem you are trying to solve will help you focus better.
  • Start journaling. Fiction writers do this to break through writer’s block. If you’re stuck on developing a problem statement journaling can help. The goal is to get your mind working.
  • Make lists of things you like/dislike about your personal life, job, etc. This can help spark new ideas or vet out potential solutions. See below for more on this.
  • Read Quora for trending questions. Add filters to narrow on your interests.
  • Review Google Trends for things people are searching for
  • Use a random idea generator to give you a topic to think or write about
  • Be open to ideas that are related but not relevant to what you are seeking. These “tangents” are often the thoughts that spark other ideas that get you want.

Have dedicated “thinking” time

  • Do it early in the day. You are likely a better thinker at 6am than you are at 6pm after a crazy day. Much like a runner feels the best before a race…don’t try to dedicate time to creativity after you’ve just run a mental marathon.
  • Dedicate at least 10 minutes to thinking. Daily. It’s only 10 minutes. Depending on the type of method you use, meditation can be great tool for this as well.
  • Uninterrupted time will serve you better than trying this with kids running around or emails/IMs distracting you.

Make lists, diagrams and other notes to spark ideas

Topics can include anything from world issues to common challenges encountered while preparing a meal at home. I often experiment with diagraming these topics. I’ve found The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking incredibly helpful for generating ideas and example diagrams. Each page of the entire book is a different strategic model. It’s really easy to skip around and try different ones out.

Don’t just think. Do.

One of my favorite quotes: “Starting a business is like choosing lunch.  Picking nothing is guaranteed to leave you still hungry.  Picking ‘something’ is better than nothing.  It’s not about being right, it’s about being.” – Seth Godin

I think the same applies to getting started with anything. It’s better to start thinking today than to wait for ‘the perfect idea’ to come along tomorrow.

After a short amount of time, you will be amazed at the new ideas that your exploration brings to you. As you get better at it, managing all the new “tangents” will be more difficult than generating them. It’s best to have some type of “Icebox” to let your ideas chill so they aren’t a distraction. I use OneNote  which allows me to quickly create a new Page and toss in a few bullet points about the idea to build on later. I have also had good experience with the Werdsmith app, but found it’s rich editing capabilities lacking.

Good luck and happy ideation.

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