May 15, 2015
Strong, powerful ideas are the lifeblood of a successful company. Businesses are born from the spark of an idea, grow with the help of creative problem solving, and flourish through innovative marketing strategies.
Sometimes it seems that the ability to come up with great ideas is a gift you simply have to be born with. But while creativity does come naturally to some, you’ll find that no one owns a complete monopoly on good ideas. Today we want to share with you five steps from the bestselling book How to Get Ideas that can help anyone increase their creative powers. If this guide intrigues you, pick up the book for more wisdom on each step as well as many other tips for mastering the art of creative thinking.
Step One: Define the problem
At first, identifying the problem may seem simple enough, but this crucial first step has its difficulties. The issue lies in making sure you understand what the true problem is and how to look at it.
“The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skills. To raise new questions, new problems, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and makes real advances.” – Albert Einstein
In order to identify the true problem in any given scenario, you have to ask the right questions. Henry Ford is famously attributed with saying that if he had asked people what they wanted, “they would have said a faster horse.” Ford understood that the problem wasn’t figuring out what his customers wanted, but finding a way to engineer a better form of travel, something they didn’t even know they wanted.
Often times you may find yourself working on the wrong problem or coming at it from the wrong angle, and that’s never going to lead you to an earth-shattering epiphany. Step back, reevaluate the problem and let the ideas flow.
Step Two: Gather the Information
“A creative man can’t jump from nothing to a great idea. He needs a springboard of information.” – Bill Bernbach
When looking for inspiration, gather as much related info as possible. Channel your inner 3-year-old and ask a million questions. Not everything you find will be useful – in fact, most if it won’t be – but you have to mine through piles of useless facts in order to get to that one thing that sparks the perfect idea.
Advertisers know this truth well. They sift through data on the company and the target market in order to find that one significant truth that connects the two. For more on that, see Lisa A. Fortini-Campbell’s Hitting the Sweet Spot.
The first place anyone looks when gathering information is the internet, but don’t let this be your only source of data. Exhaust every resource you have, keeping in mind that some of the best ideas come from the unlikeliest of places.
Step Three: Search for the Idea
Ideas breed more ideas. When you start your search, push away the pressure to come up with the most brilliant thing you’ve ever thought of and just come up with something simple. Coming up with one idea, even if it makes no sense or defies all laws of physics, can get the creative juices flowing and start you down a path to that brilliant idea. As long as that initial idea is new or different, it’ll get the ball rolling.
And once that ball is rolling, don’t let it stop! Ideas may come slowly at first, but if you keep at it, you’ll be surprised by the things you can come up with. Resist the urge to censor yourself or overanalyze your ideas as this will stop the flow of creativity. Write every idea down and then move on to the next one. The time for editing and critical examination will come later but the most important thing in this stage is that you push yourself to come up with as many ideas as possible.
“The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.” – Linus Pauling
Step Four: Forget About It
What if after gathering information and brainstorming hundreds of ideas you still haven’t found that one perfect solution? At this point, you may want to step away from the problem for a while and clear it from your conscious mind. Some problems have strict deadlines attached so you may not always have this option, but if you do, it can be very beneficial.
“I have found that if I have to write upon some rather difficult topic, the best plan is to think about it with very great intensity – the greatest intensity of which I am capable – for a few hours or days, and at the end of that time give orders, so to speak, that the work is to proceed underground. After some months I would return consciously to the topic and find that the work had been done.”
– Bertrand Russell
You don’t necessarily need to put things on hold for several months – even just a few days can make an impact – but don’t forget about it and just sit around. Forget about it and work on something else. Work on a different problem or dive into a personal project or hobby. Bottom line is, stay busy and stay alert, with your mind open to ideas. When you work consciously on another project your mind is able to work on the other problem subconsciously.
This may lead to a eureka moment in which the idea comes to you out of nowhere. Or you could come back to the problem after your absence to discover that new, clearer pathways have appeared that you hadn’t seen before and that the idea is now within reach.
Step Five: Put the Idea into Action
The sad truth about many great ideas is that nothing ever comes of them. The idea is born, it gets shared with others and then for one reason or another it is abandoned. Sometimes, this is because we feel like getting the idea is enough – no need to do any more work. Otherwise, it gets abandoned because the process of implementing an idea seems too daunting, the risk of failure too painful, the work involved too difficult. Don’t fall into this trap and let your time, energy and ideas go to waste. Take action and make it happen! If you struggle to get going, try these tips:
- Strike while the iron is hot. Don’t allow time for your excitement for the project to die down.
- Commit yourself to the idea by investing money into it. Commitment creates action.
- Give yourself a deadline and stick to it.
- Create a list of tasks to get your idea off the ground and then make sure you do something every day to move things forward.
So there you have it – the five steps to getting better ideas. We’ve really just scratched the surface so make sure you check out the complete in-depth guide for more solid advice. Hopefully you’re excited now about getting your next great idea. Happy hunting!