Most ideas don’t come in a flash of inspiration like a ‘Eureka!’ moment. The reality is that even the most amazing ideas come through an incremental methodical process. That process involves searching for and adapting ‘sub-ideas’ that will be combined to make your ultimate grand idea. In this way you shape the arrival of your Eureka moment. There’s no waiting around for the right idea to arrive fully formed and sparkling with brilliance.
Get ready for your first Eureka…
Get yourself into the right environment and mind-set for generating ideas: you can find groundwork suggestions in the post 10 steps to propel your creativity into outer space.
There’s no point forcing ideas: let them spill out and explore them from different angles. This is far too soon to plan how you might put them into action, so there’s no need for practicalities or even common sense…
Where do you begin to find your Eureka?
All great ideas start from a source. The first step in the process is to gather your sources so that you will have a range of starting points to explore. Ideally aim for at least three different sources for a varied adventure. In effect what you’re doing is looking at what has already piqued the interest of other people.
An interesting mix of sources will generate the most original ideas: this means look at sources online, offline, informal discussions with colleagues, formal brainstorming and other tools.
- Online sources of ideas – for most people this is perhaps the most convenient way to obtain a wide range of input. Type your area of interest into a search engine and paste anything of interest into a document that you can later review.
Search on related social media for existing discussions of these topics in order to broaden your material, drilling down through the profiles of interesting subscribers to arrive at even better insights. You can of course ask on social media for more insight into your field; start or join discussions.
Don’t just consider text – you may find good starting points by searching images, videos or podcasts. Remember at this stage all you’re looking for is a beginning point, not a step-by-step infographic of how your fully-formed idea will function.
- Offline sources of ideas – magazines and newspapers still exist! Actively look through material and take notes or photocopies. Read a book, watch a film, visit a museum or gallery. You can collate this information in a scrapbook or organised folder; if you opt for a scrapbook bear in mind that flexibility will be needed later in the process so opt for a loose-leaf scrapbook.
- Brainstorming as a source of ideas – this entails considering many possibilities in a short space of time. It’s most effective when you’ve already gathered some source material using the previous methods; so for example get some ideas sourced online as a pre-source to your discussion and then let that discussion throw up anything regardless of whether it’s sensible or feasible.
- Examine existing problems as a source of ideas – identify the problems that your target audience is experiencing so that you know where your solution will begin. A good place to start would be a formal or informal survey asking customers where they see a problem – you may already have customer feedback to begin with.
The limitation of this method is that some people may not have the insight to be aware of a problem until it’s pointed out to them. So extend this method by considering what customers appreciate about the company and what they would need to improve that.
- Look at existing ideas as a source of new ideas – consider what other people have come up with and list these as starting points for your own idea. Consider why they appeal and what makes them effective.
An additional step you can take is a quick refresh of your brain cells – take a look at these inspiring quotes. You can see that good ideas are out there waiting to be discovered.
The key to getting that first spark is to look around at a variety of sources. Consider everything as a suitable source: if you believe the natural arena for your search is online, spice it up with a fresh look at what people are saying in traditional media. This is particularly good advice if you’re looking for a business idea – the wider you cast your net the better.
You’ll find that you’ve generated a mass of source material and of course only a fraction of it can be useful in your current project. Don’t see this as effort that has been wasted; see it as a gold-mine of material that may be useful for future projects. Whether you’ve created a folder or a scrapbook what you now have is an Idea Bank that you can return to in the future. And you can keep adding to it whenever anything catches your eye rather than waiting passively for your Eureka moment.
Get started with an Ideas Bank and let me know in the comments if you rely on another good source of ideas.