Generating Ideas

Breakthroughs are a paradigm shift. They represent a major change to the status quo. Often they are attributed to Thought Leaders like Steve Jobbs, think the first Mac and its graphical interface or the iPad. Or Henry Ford and his Model T production line. How do you this? What generates such ground breaking ideas?

I’ve been discussing this with people who work in R&D, reviewed innovation projects and did some reading. There are 2 different sets of activities that can help.

Set 1: Focus on the problem


Concentrate on just the problem you are trying to solve. Don’t multi task. Dedicate time to it.

Generate lots of ideas

Write everything down that comes to mind in the context of the problem you are trying to solve. Don’t judge yet. Sounds crazy? Doesn’t matter. Sounds impossible? still write it down. At the end of this you have a multitude of possibilities. Some are the usual things, some are outrageous, some are wild, and some may depend on other things. Let them sit aside for while.

Explore the problem’s environment

Take a step back from the problem itself. “Chunk up” would the NLP trained person say. And look at the bigger picture. Remind yourself of the bigger objective where the problem fits in. What do we try to achieve on that level? Check against your ideas: do some stick out? or some may not fit at all because of the inherent or explicit values aligned with the big picture.

Take a cross functional view

When you are immersed in solving a problem you are often stuck in viewing it from your body of knowledge. That could be a mechanical view or IT driven, a physics problem or a biological one. What do you know from other fields that could help you? Or even better you have a colleague from another field. Explain the issue to him, you will be surprised about the questions coming from this discussion. Review your generated ideas together, you could be too close and miss some essential points.

Set 2: Techniques

Disengage Left Brain

Most of us are Left Brain thinkers. We use tools, processes, IT systems, drive cars, follow traffic rules, and have a standard way of doing things. That’s not helping with generating an idea that challenges the status quo, right? You remember, the Eureka moment of Archimedes (yes the triangle) while he was having a bath? Or when we learnt in school how Newton discovered the rules of Gravity by watching a apple falling from a tree? To get in a state of mind where ideas can break through, do something that relaxes your brain’s focus, like having a shower, running along the beach, or meditating.

Keep a dream journal

I have my iPad sitting next to my bed. Sometimes you wake up and have an idea. If I don’t write it down there and then it’s forgotten in the morning. There are lots of stories where people said they dreamed about it and saw the solution that so long eluded them.

Tap into your Right Brain

Use a deck of tarot cards or dream symbols. Spread them on the table face down. Have somebody pick a card and now use brainstorming techniques associating the card symbol with the problem at hand. This forces you or the group to think outside the box.

Idea notebook

By now you should have a dozen pieces of paper with lots of notes, ideas, references, symbols, and diagrams. Keep an ideas notebook and write everything down that comes to mind. Modern tools are so helpful having time stamps, categories, and tags that allow you to sort and review your ideas.

Don’t forget – Have Fun 🙂


One comment on “Generating Ideas

  1. […] month I wrote about Generating Ideas, which is an individual process and I talked about what works for me. In groups the most common […]

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