Everything you’ve accomplished in life began as an idea in your mind. So how can you have more ideas? In my 15-year study of business innovators in fields as diverse as software design, advertising and banking, I have discovered that what separates the people who stand out from those who don’t is not superior intelligence or superior education. Instead, it’s the unique way in which they work with their ideas.
Everybody has ideas. But innovators have a process for working with their ideas that they can articulate.
Start the process of retooling your own idea factory by asking yourself how well it has been manufacturing ideas lately. Then use these eight guidelines to gear up your idea factory again.
1. Give Yourself Periods of Dream Space
With ever-increasing demands at work, most of us have considerably less time for reflection and thinking. Decisions are made hastily, without considering alternatives. Innovators avoid this by giving themselves dream space.
Doug Greene, chairman and CEO of New Hope Communications, a publisher of trade magazines in Colorado, has a standing appointment each month to be alone. During what he calls “Doug day,” he plans a change-of-pace activity to allow him to think through priorities, challenges, and the relationships in his life.
2. Enhance Your Environment for Maximum Creativity
Wayne Silby is cofounder of the Bethesda, Maryland-based Calvert Group, a financial services company that created the first social investment fund. Silby favors floating in his isolation tank as a creative environment and says many of his best ideas occur when he gets up at 4 a.m. and begins work while listening to classical music.
3. Seek Out Idea-Oriented People
Innovators get a lot of their ideas from being around other idea-oriented people such as friends, colleagues, co-workers, and neighbors who are using ideas to fuel their own lives and whose excitement inspires their own creativity.
Take a moment to consider the people you know who stimulate your creativity. Plan to spend more time with these people. If you’re looking to meet more idea-oriented people, join clubs and organizations in your field and community.
4. Audit Your Information Intake
What publications do you read? Is your information diet broad enough? Lack of broad-based reading can hurt you. An effective personal future-scan system must include broad-based reading of high-quality material. Subscribe to a variety of publications, even if you aren’t able to read them all immediately. When you’re on a flight or have a block of unscheduled free time, whittle away at the stack. Even if you only skim them, you’ll pick up a wealth of information, and you’ll notice connections and start seeing patterns of change emerge.
5. Focus on the Source of Ideas
At a recent conference of architects, “Sources of Inspiration,” attendees listed seeing other designs in magazines, serving the complex needs of clients and users of the structure, enjoying the process of creating the structure, and simply wanting to create. Not too earth shattering, is it?
That leads to another misconception about innovators: their ideas are completely original. In fact, innovators get ideas the same way that everyone else does: Some they dream up, and others they borrow. They take a little concept from here and combine it with one they’ve found somewhere else. That is not to suggest that you rip off someone else’s idea and represent them to the world as your own. Instead, the innovator’s talent is that he or she knows which ideas to borrow from other fields.
6. Look for Ideas by Studying Problems
The late Bill Gore is perhaps best known for inventing Goretex, the “breathable” but waterproof fabric. Gore used to say his ideas came from studying problems. “I walk through the plant and see a piece of equipment that’s being built in the shop,” Gore said. “I inquire about how it is designed. And I scratch my head and say, ‘You know, it would be so much better if it could be done this way instead of that way.'”
Gore wouldn’t have created a new invention if he hadn’t walked through the shop and saw the machine under construction. Look around for parts of ideas you have yet to put together and take advantage of ones that already exist. Ask yourself: how could they be combined in new ways? What need could be met? Where is the market, and who would use your idea?
You can learn the general skills by reading about how others have solved problems in different situations and in other fields. If you’re a businessperson, read about problem solving in genetic research. If you’re an architect, read about problem solving in fashion design. There are certain logical leaps, steps, and processes that can apply to your ideas.
7. Devise a System to Capture Ideas
“Ideas are like babies,” Peter Drucker once wrote. They’re born small, immature, and shapeless. They are promise rather than fulfillment. Particularly in their initial stages, they are fragile. They have to be carefully fed, nurtured, and protected.” Innovators have perfected a process of internal market research – trying their ideas out on people. It helps the innovator discriminate between those ideas that are “doable” and those that aren’t. At some point you have to be willing to put your idea out there to find its strengths and weaknesses. In the initial stages, it is important to protect the germ of an idea until you’ve really examined it in your own thinking processes. Then test it on some of your closest friends.
8. Invite Skeptics to Review Your Larger Ideas
While positive thinkers and possibility thinkers are prone to like your idea no matter how far fetched, they can actually lead you astray. They’ll tell you that it’s a great idea regardless of the flaws. But when you seek out skeptical thinkers, you’re bound to get another perspective on your idea.
Image credit: www.ak3d.de
Robert B. Tucker is the President of The Innovation Resource Consulting Group. He is a speaker, seminar leader and an expert in the management of innovation and assisting companies in accelerating ideas to market.