Producing Ideas

Galleria Borghese in Rome, Italy Galleria Borghese in Rome, Italy.

Need to come up with a killer app idea that nets you billions? Dying to discover that one missing ingredient in the cure for male pattern baldness? Writing a guaranteed blockbuster screenplay but you have no idea what it will be about? Well good thing you found this post because I'm going to teach you how to come up with endless ideas. There will be so many ideas coming out of you that you'll be thinking your sushi dinner gave you food poisoning.

Now keep in mind that I didn't make these steps up myself. I'm not an idea scientist. These steps are from a short book on generating ideas. It was an interesting read because I never saw ideation as a process that can be deliberately practiced.

You'll just have to take my word that these steps work, until you try them for yourself. If they don't work, I'll give you back your wasted time. No questions asked. Just send me a letter with paid return postage and I'll ship back a parcel of time. Sound fair? Alright, we now embark down the trail of learnings and such...

Step 1

Gather raw materials for your mind.

There are two kinds of material: specific and general. This first step is all about researching the problem at hand. You must only focus on gathering material at this stage.

Try to find specific facts that relate to the immediate problem at hand. For example, if you are trying to market a product, you would learn everything you can about the product and the people that use it.

In regards to general material, this is something that we collect all the time. Sources include books, browsing the net, talking to people, hearing stories, travelling, etc. This type of general knowledge provides a constant enrichment. Think of it as a large catalogue of interesting facts and experiences that you can pull from. The more you grow this, the easier it will be to synthesize new ideas.

Step 2

Work the material over in your mind.

Allow it to penetrate deep into your thoughts. Take one fact and manipulate it. View it from different angles and get a feel for its meaning. Now take another fact and see how it fits with the other. Your goal is to find relationships. New combinations will be synthesized when facts begin to combine. You may come up with seemingly good ideas during this step. It is possible to have a brilliant breakthrough, but it's not likely. Take your small ideas and write them down. Use them as extra material for this process.

Don't rush this stage. It can very tedious and tiring, but it cannot be skipped. When you feel like you are running out of energy, keep going. Only stop when you are so exhausted and have viewed the facts every which way and combined them with all other facts.

Step 3

This step is really simple and fun. Drop the entire subject and put the problem out of your mind as completely as you can. Seriously, don't make any effort to think about it. Now you must turn to whatever stimulates your imagination or emotions. Watch a movie, read a book, listen to music, sleep, cook, etc. Keep the problem out of your conscious mind and let your subconscious churn away on the data you have fed it.

I can't tell you how long you need to do this, but you must be patient. The time it takes is probably inversely proportional to how much material you fed your mind and the quality of the relationships, but that is my unscientific guess.

Step 4

Eventually you will have a eureka moment. A great idea will magically pop into your mind when you least expect it. This tends to happen to people during those quiet, isolated times of the day, such as while you shower or just after waking up. Your subconscious has successfully synthesized a new idea from old ideas. It's a pretty amazing thing.

Step 5

This is the final step.

It's likely that your new idea doesn't fit the problem perfectly. You need to shape it and develop it so that it's practical. Get it out into the world of reality and don't stress out if you find it's not as amazing as it seemed when first thought up. It's crucial that you submit the idea to others for analysis, critique, criticism, whatever word you want to call it. You will find that a good idea has self-expanding qualities. It will stimulate those who see it and they will add to it. This will bring light to possibilities that you overlooked.

Published July 8, 2013