⭐️ How to generate better ideas

Ideation isn’t something you can learn by reading about it. It’s a skill that you learn by doing. You have to practice to become better.

I really like the analogy of “training your idea muscle” that is just perfect. You can do this by, for example, writing down 10 ideas every day. This could be any kind of ideas.

Ideas for books, movies, parties, recipes, experiments, businesses, whatever.

While writing down 10 ideas may sound simple, I personally always found it extremely hard and was never able to do it consistently.

The mistake I made was that I tried to come up with ideas while staring at a blank piece of paper, waiting for inspiration to strike.

It’s far more effective to have at least some input.

This is why I started collecting useful prompts. These prompts not only make it so much easier to come up with ideas, but also help to direct brainstorming sessions in productive directions.

Here’s are some of my favorite prompts.

  • What is something that everyone hates using? What could be done to solve these problems? (Don’t let your imagination be limited to what you consider technologically possible. Just write down whatever you can come up with.)
  • What inefficiencies can be solved by borrowing new technology and applying it to an older space?
  • What is something where you find yourself repeatedly saying “I should not have to do x”?
  • What is something that everyone does that you think is crazy?
  • What is something that most people do not see as being valuable? What is the potential for it to be valuable?
  • What is something every household needs but doesn’t have?
  • What is something that is underrated and undervalued?
  • What is something that’s not broken but could be improved?
  • What is something everyone knows exists but few people actually do?
  • What would be a movie plot that immediately would make you want to watch it?
  • What kind of social event would you love to attend? What would make it so fun?
  • What is something you’ve never heard of? What would be the best way to learn about it?
  • What is something that makes you smile? Why?
  • What is an idea you have that, if made real, would change the world?
  • What would be an amazing new product?
  • What is something that you want to learn more about?
  • What is something that you dislike? How could it be improved?
  • What is something that is impossible? What would be a way to make it possible?
  • What is something that you wish everyone had?
  • What is something that you wish everyone knew?
  • What is something that everyone should do?
  • What is something that everyone should stop doing?
  • What could be the next big thing for your industry?
  • What is one thing that would make you smile every day?
  • What do you believe in so strongly that you would fight for it?
  • What is one important thing you want to make sure happens before you die?

Now just to be clear, even with the best prompts most of your ideas will be bad.

That’s simply how it works.

Before you can hope to find any high-quality ideas, you have to come up with tons of crappy ones. You need to get them out of your system.

It’s useful to visualize your creativity as a backed-up pipe of water. The first mile of piping is packed with wastewater. This wastewater must be emptied before the clear water arrives.

There’s no shortcut other than first emptying the wastewater.

And since our brains are hardwired for narrative, here’s a story that illustrates the same idea nicely:

“A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

So if you want to improve your ability to come up with great ideas, you should start a daily brainstorming habit.

Write down at least 10 ideas every day.

I created this simple tool that shows a random prompt every time you open it for my own brainstorming sessions and decided to make it publicly available. Feel free to use it and recommend it to friends if you find it useful.

In any case, always keep in mind that the quality of the ideas you write down doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you actually write ideas down somewhere and do it daily.

I personally use Notion to collect my ideas but any notetaking tool or an old-school notebook will do.

Trust the process. Once the bad ideas are out of your system, stronger and stronger ideas will begin to arrive.

Written on June 15, 2022

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