via New Yorker
How to train yourself to generate better ideas.
Jun 14, 20175 min read
It?s not hard to come up with a great idea.
What?s hard is to develop the habits that enable you to come up with great ideas.
The extent to which you incorporate these habits into your life ultimately determines the quality of your ideas.
It?s not magic, it?s commitment.
Here are nine habits to improve your ability to generate valuable ideas.
1. Consider what you consume.
Idea generation is fueled by consumption, not creativity.
As Steve Jobs said, ?Creativity is just connecting things.?
The more ?things? you have to connect, the better your ideas will become. This means the quality and quantity of things you consume is a crucial factor in your ability to come up with a good idea.
The books, TV shows, articles, and movies you consume, the people you interact with, and the experiences you have all influence the ideas you generate.
If you consume junk, you can?t expect to create quality.
2. Regurgitate what you consume.
Exposing yourself to valuable ideas is only half the battle.
To get the most out of what you consume, it helps to regurgitate those ideas to others.
After reading an interesting article, talk to someone about it, write about it in a blog post, and/or condense its essence into a 140-character tweet. Doing so will help you get exponentially more benefit out of it.
Because the process of communicating an idea you?ve consumed in different formats ? speaking, writing, and condensing it ?forces you to absorb the idea in a deeper way.
You internalize it, learn more from it, are able to recall it, and better understand it. Each of those things make it more likely to unlock new ideas for you down the road.
3. Think macro.
One of the simplest ways to improve idea generation is to think about things you encounter in a macro sense.
No matter what you learn, you can zoom your perspective out to a macro level and discover ways it relates to other things you?re trying to brainstorm.
For example, on a micro level a Billy Joel concert may just be a fun way to spend a night.
But by expanding my viewpoint and considering what was happening on a macro level, I discovered it was actually packed with universal ideas about how to connect with an audience that had nothing to do with music.
4. Capture ideas when they come.
Ideas come to you when THEY want to, not necessarily when YOU want them to.
That?s why training yourself to come up with better ideas isn?t just about preparing for your next brainstorm session. Recognize instead that ideas constantly come to you and to develop a habit of acknowledging and capturing them.
Learn to sense when an idea pops into your head and create a simple system to capture it in the moment.
Carry around a notebook, leave yourself a voicemail, send yourself an email, or figure out some other way to capture the idea before it slips away.
5. Speak your ideas.
Just like it?s helpful to regurgitate the ideas of others, it?s also powerful to speak your own ideas out loud.
Express your idea to someone else and explain it spontaneously. Don?t read it from your notes, say it extemporaneously.
The process of communicating an idea ? even if you don?t solicit feedback? helps you clarify and see it in a new way.
Something happens when you speak an idea that doesn?t happen when you write it? and vice versa.
6. Ask more questions.
Questions are powerful and too often we don?t ask enough of them.
In any conversation, the process of coming up with questions to ask and listening to people?s answers can lead to new ideas.
It gives you more information to work with and trains you to look for different angles and layers to things as opposed to taking them at face value.
Need some suggestions of what to ask? Read this.
7. Study opposite takes on the same idea.
A key to successful idea generation is to recognize there are infinite answers to every challenge.
To develop this mindset, seek out different ways people answer the same question.
Take productivity for example.
Some people think productivity hacks ruin our lives while others believe our productivity is determined by who we sit next to.
Who?s right? It doesn?t matter ? that?s not the point.
The point is consuming conflicting ideas helps you see a bigger picture, expands your viewpoint, and triggers your own take on the subject.
For me, that take turned out to be that these six decisions that will make you more productive.
8. Focus on ideas that solve problems.
The most valuable ideas are ones that solve problems for people.
So, rather than wait for a magical idea to hit you, think about what problems people have that you?d like to solve.
Inverting the process focuses your idea generation and increases the likelihood you come up with a good idea.
It?s the simplest thing you can do to instantly improve the value of your ideas.
9. Vary where and when you think.
Routines are helpful in habit-building, but when it comes to idea generation don?t be afraid to mix it up.
Rather than set a specific time to brainstorm, train yourself to do so at different times and in different locations.
When you set out to come up with an idea, you don?t have to be seated at your desk or in your office. Even science proves you can?t be creative without moving.
Ideas can just as easily come in the shower, on a walk, while driving, or while doing the dishes.
You can brainstorm when you wake up one day, at lunch the next, and right before bed the day after that.
A variety of environments often sparks a wider variety ? and higher quality ? of ideas.
For example, the broad idea for this post came to me while I walked and listened to music, most of the nine habits came to me while in the shower, and I wrote it while at my desk.
And it turned out to be a pretty valuable idea?right?
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