With the right approach, anyone can generate ideas that make you go Wow!
With these ideas, you can solve problems in novel ways that expand the realm of possibility. But there’s a problem.
School, society, and the workplace are designed to crush your creativity and instead foster obedience. To create well-behaved humans who go to work and do what the heck they’re told.
Between the ages of 5 and 25, the percentage of people that are creative drops from 98% to 2%. What’s left is an automaton churning out predictable, low-level ideas. Just like everyone else.
Maybe you work in an open-plan office, have meetings on bean bags, or have that oh-so-special 20% time to follow your interests. All the ingredients needed for creativity, right?
Without a clear understanding of how your mind works to generate badass ideas, all that means nothing.
Fortunately, generating top-level ideas isn’t limited to geniuses. It’s a built-in feature of the human brain that anyone can access, without waiting for an apple to fall on your head.
Why your mind is holding you back
Did you ever do a brainstorming session and come away with boring, sensible ideas?
Why? You only engaged the narrowing, single-solution oriented part of your brain. You only used convergent thinking.
Game-changing ideas never had a chance to enter your conscious mind. Or if they did, the conforming part of your brain discarded them as unrealistic.
To bring the best ideas to the table requires divergent thinking, which reaches into the unfamiliar to generate new possibilities.
The subconscious mind is particularly good at this. Did you ever focus really hard on a problem, only to have the solution come to you later when you weren’t even thinking about it?
Good. Your brain works like mine then.
We’ll come back to this to learn how to use divergent thinking to generate Wow! ideas. But first, here’s some food for thought.
Your brain has the munchies
Aside from crushing your creative abilities, society also teaches you that stealing is bad.
Yes. Taking someone’s physical possessions could have negative consequences. But what about ideas? After all, they’re infinite.
Artists steal ideas all the time. They steal them, blend them with other ideas to create something new, then put their name on it and share it with the world.
“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.”David Bowie
Whether you’re an artist or computer scientist, to come up with novel solutions, you need existing ideas to work from.
Food for thought.
Where do you steal from? Books, documentation, videos, or anywhere with information about whatever problem you’re trying to solve.
Yes, you could call it research.
What’s important is that when you start to think divergently, you have enough materials from which to make new connections. Connecting existing ideas in novel ways is what we need to generate a jaw-dropping Wow! idea.
According to Dr. George Land, who ran the study showing that by age 25 only 2% remain creative, anyone can learn to think like a 5-year-old again.
Yes. Anyone can train and improve their divergent thinking abilities to join that 2% minority.
The next time you brainstorm ideas for a problem you’re facing, try this:
1) Write down every idea, good and bad
Every idea that comes into your head should be written down immediately.
Don’t discount an idea because it’s unrealistic or silly. Better still, don’t judge it at all. This way, you engage less convergent and more divergent thinking, and keep the ideas flowing.
2) Set a big target for how many ideas to generate
When you focus hard on something, the subconscious mind gets the message and starts helping out.
Don’t settle for the first good idea you think of. There may be better ones around the corner. Set a target of 25, 50, or even 100 ideas for your brainstorm. When you get stuck, keep going.
“Most people stop looking when they find the proverbial needle in the haystack. I would continue looking to see if there were other needles.”Alfred Einstein
3) Be aware of assumptions
When you think you’ve run out of ideas for your brainstorm, take a look at the problem and thoroughly question any assumptions. Doing so can unlock huge new ideas, one of which could be the breakthrough.
For example, imagine I asked you to come up with 50 ideas for improving a fork. An image of a table fork might come to mind, and your brain goes to work. But what about other types of fork? Barbecue forks, forks in the road, or bicycle forks.
When you successfully question assumptions, you open up new frames through which to view the problem and unlock new fields of ideas.
Life is busy, I know. When we’re in the thick of it and hit a problem, there’s not always time to down tools to run an impromptu brainstorming session. But the more you try these techniques, the more natural idea generation will become.
Try it out. How many uses can you come up with for a brick? Yes, a brick. I challenge you to write down at least 25 ideas. More if you can.
Let me know how you get on.