Where Do Great Ideas Come From?

More often than not, when I am stumbled by an elegant and innovative idea, it makes me wonder what miraculous events made this genius of a person think of it in the first place. My next thought, though, as I understand the idea better, is how simple it really is. So I think, why didn’t I think of that?

Whether someone has technical background or not, the opportunity to turn a great idea into a business has become more plausible now than ever before. But where does the initial spark for great ideas come from?

I don’t know about you but I don’t often sit and ponder under an apple tree before one of the fruits knocks me back to my senses, or have an epiphany in the middle of taking a bath only to run down the main street reciting my Aha moment at the fear of forgetting it. Nor have I had a series of fortunate accidents after my air conditioner broke down, that made me think, ‘Bingo! I got to create a marketplace for this’

But surely, not every great idea planted on this earth experiences an inexplicable eureka moment. Some take days, months and even years of trial and error, studying and practice before it even gets anywhere close to the lightbulb moment!

Perhaps there is a way to training yourself to get better at creating something out of nothing. Creative ideas aren’t reserved for a special group of people – they can come to anyone if you look in the right places. Working in a startup gives me that opportunity to improvise, innovate and experiment on a daily basis – I love my job for its endless possibilities. But being in a creative role demands an essential fix of marketing and entrepreneurial ideas that sometimes, even the daily fix of caffeine does not guarantee.

What I’ve realised over the last year is that the point isn’t to deliver an ingenious (and complete) piece of work everyday. It is to practice coming up with great ideas, and activate the neurons in your brain and get it to the point where you’re moving subconsciously. Creativity is certainly not a switch you can turn on or off, but trying out these new habits could give you the best environment for it to grow and foster.

1. Look for inspiration

In a world where we “move fast and break things”, it is important to stop, be still and wrestle with our own thoughts. But searching for inspiration by sitting on the beach and brooding over the sunset is neither practical nor feasible, especially if you’re stuck in a hazy metropolis. However, the rewards of stepping out of our typical environment and looking for inspiration in unexpected places can be immeasurable. Instead of staying focused on your own industry, look elsewhere.

2. Write it down

The practice of free writing worked wonders when I worked in publishing – and I’ve found that some of the same skills work when teaching yourself to be the ideas person in a startup. Writing helps you be completely immersed in the idea – whatever shows up on the paper will be a manifestation of something entirely unique, and sometimes trigger associations with a memory you thought was forever lost in the graveyard of good ideas. When you’re recording that wisp of an idea, you are basically creating a backlog of ideas that could be resurrected anytime.

3. Steal it from somewhere else

With 7 billion people on this planet, everything you’ve thought of probably crossed someone else’s mind too. Look to innovate by taking from others, and then build from it. Take from others, as they have taken from those before them to give yourself a foundation. Then add in your own resources, your own experiences and desires into the mix to create a completely different product.

4. Mix and Match

We are intuitive beings inexorably interconnected to universes and galaxies and stars, by the very nature of our atomic make up. The same applies to ideas whereby we get better ideas by connecting them, often to seemingly unrelated items, than we do by protecting them.

5. Find internal motivation

You should find work that matches your expertise, your creative thinking and your personal goals. To bring out your best ideas, you have to work on something interesting, exciting and challenging. It’s no wonder environments where you are pushed by evaluation, surveillance from superiors and competition from peers are never associated with creative workspaces. You should do what you love and completely immerse yourself in your work. When all your emotions are invested in the outcome of the goal, you can create some of your best work

6. Take risks

People who weren’t bred to think they can’t be wrong have an easier time failing with dignity and poise. To find success in this day and age, we must possess an almost foolish willingness to fail. Often the difference between a successful idea and a failed one – is the courage to bet on the idea and share it with the rest of the world. Even if it’s not as great as you thought in the first place, the feedback and criticism can be channeled to pivot the idea into something more plausible.

There is no single unified theory of innovation – a secret ingredient to the next billion-dollar idea. Our present day world offers a wonderful life for millions of us – to hatch a great idea and to make some serious money. Just be careful not to get rife with endless toil as you’re turning science fiction into reality, and make sure your dreams of reinventing the world do not turn into just another tough and insecure job.

“There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” (Through the Looking Glass)

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