Whatever your career, whatever your goals in life, ideas are going to matter to you. An idea could lead to that million dollar business you’ve dreamt of, it could lead you to raise millions for charity, or it could lead you to change your whole life.
The thing is ideas are not always the easiest things to come by unless you’re thinking about them, and setting yourself up in an environment that allows for regular ideation.
Here are some tips that I use to make sure I’m regularly coming up with new ideas, fostering them, and moving them forward.
1. Carry a notebook.
I try to carry a notebook with me wherever I. As much as I rely on my iPad, I love Moleskine notebooks, but any pocket-sized one will do. When you get an idea, write it down — right away. Even if you have to stop what you are doing in order to do so. Ideas are fleeting, and you have to write them down before they’ve gone away.
2. Read, and A lot.
I read a lot of books (1 or 2 a week), I have hundreds of RSS feeds I read through each day, and I skim magazines regularly. Whatever you read, read as much as you have time for, you’ll find new ideas will come to you from the ideas, trends, and stories you read.
3. Talk to people.
Talk to anyone. Talking to others, about any kind of topic, will inevitably lead you to new ideas, if you’re open to them. Some of my best ideas come when I’m talking to my wife, my family or friends. They help me improve ideas, and often bring up points I never would have thought about (see point #9).
4. Find inspiration.
There’s inspiration everywhere – in the sky, in the ocean, in a park, in the people you meet, or in some of the best blogs. Make it a point to seek out that inspiration – look for it daily.
Sometimes, it’s good to sit down alone with a piece of paper, and just randomly jot down ideas that come to your mind about a topic. Don’t censor your ideas, no matter how dumb they may seem (and you will come up with some dumb ideas!). But for every 10 or 15 bad ideas you’ll come up with some pretty great ones. The key is to get them out of your mind and onto paper as fast as you can. In quantity you will find quality!
6. Come up with a twist.
Often, you can improve on the ideas of others. Find a great idea, and make it better with a unique twist of your own. Explore how you can change an idea, how you can improve upon it, or combine it with others, and create something new. Often the new, changed version of the idea is better than the original.
7. Draw from your every day life.
I often think about the things that I do and use in my every day life, and how I can improve upon them. Your every day life, from brushing your teeth, to cooking dinner, to a project you’re doing at work, can be the basis of a great idea.
8. Use your interests.
What are you passionate about? Often, others are interested in the same things. Brainstorm, and ideate about what you’re interested in, even if you’re not an expert in a subject, it will lead you to great ideas.
9. Bounce ideas and collaborate
Got a smart friend, co-worker or family member? Bounce ideas off them. Sometimes, a great thing will happen: you’ll both start shooting ideas back and forth, until some really awesome ideas emerge. And who knows you may find ways to further collaborate with each other.
10. Research (Google it)
Do a quick search on the idea you’re thinking about. Often there will be dozens of already existing ideas out there. Identify those ideas that have been done, and be ready to move on to your next idea right away.
11. Draw it.
Sometimes putting something into visual form will give you new ways to look at it. If you’re not good at drawing, do a mind map, or some other kind of chart or tree. You’ll often find new connections or needs you wouldn’t have identified otherwise.
12. Go for walks and listen to music
My best ideas have come from walking while listening to music, when I’m stuck, a quick walk helps me stir new thoughts, gives me a chance to clear my head, allows me to get some fresh air, and gives me fresh perspective.
13. Make lists.
I’m a list addict. They’re my favorite way to put my ideas down. I’ll try to come up with 15-20 ideas (like this list) or 50 or 100. The sheer mass of these lists forces me to come up with a ton of ideas. Those lists force me to clarify my thoughts and focus on only the best ideas (and then force me to make lists on how to make those ideas happen.)
14. Step back and look for patterns.
Sometimes, you need to see the forest, not just the trees. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, you might be looking too closely at a something. Step back, and gain a wider perspective. Look for patterns, approach ideas from new angles.
15. Go crazy.
Don’t be afraid to come up with really off-the-wall ideas. Never limit yourself to convention. Be inventive, think out of the box. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how good “crazy” ideas are.
16. Come back to old ideas.
Keep your old notebooks. If you’re stuck on an idea, make notes, and move onto the next one. You can always come back to it later. Sometimes taking a break from something, and doing something different in between, will be just what you needed, to open your mind, just remember to come back to them.
17. Be open.
Many of these tips speak to keeping your mind open to new ideas, to inspiration, to everything around you. Constantly be on the lookout for new ideas, and you will find them. Then write them down immediately, in that notebook you carry :)