- Scott H Young - https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog -

Never Run out of Ideas Again

All of us know the feeling. We are supposed to come up with an idea, but instead we can’t come up with anything. In our work this can mean spending long hours staring at our computer monitor, hoping that the solution will jump out at us. In our personal lives this can even take the form of boredom and predictability.

How can you keep those creative juices flowing, so that as the title suggests, you will never run out of ideas?

To answer it, I want you to think about how you answer creative problems. Chances are, if you can’t solve a creative problem in a few minutes, the answer isn’t going to come.

Left-brain problem solving techniques allow us to break down a problem into its components. By continuous breakdown we are eventually left with workable parts. This process can sometimes be difficult, but rarely is it impossible to solve.

Right-brain or creative thinking doesn’t work that way, though, does it? Right-brain thinking is the synthesis of ideas, not analysis. It involves taking seemingly different components and putting them together in new ways to create a totally different idea. Just sitting there expecting an answer likely won’t yield significant results.

Once you are at that point, however, there are techniques you can try. Brainstorming, for example, can yield significant creative results simply by throwing around so many ideas, two might accidentally connect which creates a new one. For those who don’t use brainstorming, it is a very simple practice. Simply take a piece of paper and write what you are trying to solve. At this point just keep writing all of your thoughts, continually getting answers until you’re satisfied.

I wrote about various techniques for using writing to solve creative problems here [1].

But my opinion is that brainstorming is a last resort. Brainstorming is like car insurance. It can be a lot of help in an accident, but by the time it comes in handy you are already in trouble. Did our greatest creative ideas come from a brainstorming session? While they might have, chances are they did not.

When do you normally get your best ideas? Is it right before falling asleep, when you are out for a walk, maybe its when you are taking a shower?

The fact is, creative solutions come from making connections that we don’t normally make. A new environment or surroundings can subconsciously create that connection we need to solve our problem.

My favorite story of this concept is the story of Archimedes.

The king had a newly made gold crown. However, he suspected that the jeweler might have tried to cheat him by mixing the gold with other metals. So he asked the brilliant Archimedes to devise a way of proving his hypothesis. Archimedes tried long and hard but couldn’t think of a solution.

Then when Archimedes went into a bath, he noticed how the water he displaced overflowed the sides. He had found his solution! He could test the hypothesis by using displaced water to get the volume of the crown. Once he had the volume and weight he could tell if the density was that of pure gold. Upon having this idea the story goes that he jumped out of his bath and ran outside naked into the streets of ancient Greece shouting “Eureka!”

In truth, I don’t believe our problem is that we don’t have enough ideas. We are continuously having ideas. The problem, therefore, is that we don’t store the ideas we have when we have them outside of the context of the problem. Meaning, if we are trying to find a creative solution for our website design on the job, we might get the best ideas when we are falling asleep or in the shower.

Once you get any idea, you must immediately commit the idea to paper. Carry around a pencil and a notepad to ensure you won’t have a time when you are a long way from a place to write it down.

The idea doesn’t have to be a brilliant one, either. In fact, recording rather mundane solutions is important too. A brilliant idea is easy to remember most of the time, but good ideas are easily forgotten. By writing down those ideas you can form a new collection of ideas. These collections of ideas can often sit in your mind and create the brilliant one you need.

But the importance is on immediately writing down the idea. You can’t rely on memory to store your idea. Because chances are you won’t be able to effectively recall the idea when you do need it.

I use this technique heavily with this blog. I have only been writing for two weeks but I already have fifteen articles including this one. And I only spend an hour of each day writing here! So how can I come up with ideas to write a new essay each day? Because I record all of my ideas whenever I have them.

Once I write down my written idea I store it on a file in my computer. That way, if I can’t think of a good essay to write, I browse a list of ten to fifteen article topics and just pick one of those. I’ve been working on a large idea surplus since I’ve started this blog, so I only have time to pick what I feel are the best ideas to write about.

The key isn’t that you aren’t creative enough. The key is how you perceive creativity works.

If you wait until you are preparing to write for a blog entry to write about, then you are too late! Creativity doesn’t work well on demand. Brainstorming can be an effective tool if you get stuck in this state, but it doesn’t make up for the ability to store ideas you have throughout the day. Even if you do have an idea, will it be the best possible? I doubt it.

This process does not work just with solving creative problems however. If you want to lead a more exciting and creative life, use this as well. Simply write down things you observe about life onto a note pad. Maybe you can write down that you would like to take a cooking class or salsa lessons. Perhaps this takes the form of an idea you have about what the purpose of life is.

By using this techique, problems with boredom almost go away. How can you say you are bored if you keep a list of dozens of fun things you can do at any time?

Get a pencil and a paper pad. Put it in your pocket and discipline yourself to write down any idea you have that you feel you might want to remember. If you are trying to keep a list of ideas (like for blog entries) then keep a good-copy list where you store your various ideas.

Do this, and I can ensure you, you will never run out of ideas again.