If ideas seem hard to find or if inspiration is far away, here are seven tips to get your brain cells working again.
1. Have Lots Of Ideas. Instead of settling on the first idea that you think of, have lots of ideas. Don’t just take my word for it: Linus Pauling said that the secret to having good ideas was to have lots of them, and then pick the best ones. Linus Pauling won the Nobel Prize twice, which puts him on my list of People To Be Listened To.
2. Don’t Judge Your Ideas Too Soon. When you have an idea, resist the urge to put it under the microscope immediately. Instead of thinking, “Hmm, would this work?” or “Ah, but this is flawed because…” just record it and move on to thinking about the next idea. Once you have a lot of ideas you will have things that you can compare, and that’s when you can start evaluating their suitability for the situation.
3. Write Your Ideas Down. Seriously. Whether you’re spending time to come up with ideas or just happen to think of something neat when you’re walking down the street, make a note of it. There are some good apps for this on smartphones (Google Keep is relatively new and I like it) but go old school. You know what doesn’t run out of battery? A small notebook and pen.
4. Practice Practice Practice. My maths teacher used to have “The mind is a muscle and must be exercised” written on his classroom wall. And he’s right. OK, maybe not in an anatomical sense, but metaphorically he’s right. If you don’t practice being creative, you lose your ability to see patterns and connections that lead to new ideas. Take time each week to do something creative – something which forces you to do new things.
5. Work Within Constraints. Forget the Blue Sky! If you open your mind totally then often there is way too much to take in, way too many options to draw from. Give yourself constraints. For example, “Ten minutes to come up with ideas” or “I’m going to fill this sheet with ideas.” If you are starting a business and want to think about how to make money or serve people, add a constraint to start your thinking. “I know I want to help everyone, but what if I was just helping ONE person. What would I do?” Take what you would do with that one person, and then expand, see where it takes you.
6. Be Curious. Magpies like shiny things. They can’t help it, they’re just attracted to them. One way to be creative is to take an interest in lots of things. Explore. Find out about stuff that interests you, and find out about stuff that seems weird and strange. This makes more and more potential in your brain, and when you come to tackle problems your mind has more possible connections for making new ideas. Be like a magpie.
7. When You’re Coming Up With Ideas, Ask Questions. What if this was big? What if it was small? What if money was no object? What if we needed to do this today? What could we do with no money? What already exists that would meet this need? What would someone else do? When you ask a question, your mind reaches for an answer. Answers are ideas. Ideas have movement value – maybe they’re not perfect, maybe they’re not right – but they move in a direction, they take you somewhere.
Don’t be afraid to let your ideas take you somewhere!
I'm a former researcher into the microbiology of the mouth who now runs a skills development programme for other researchers.