Getting New Ideas

I am a firm believer in sharing knowledge as opposed to hoarding it (especially within the confines of a company). Knowledge is power, so many of us are reluctant to give it up. Leadership should concentrate on building a collective intelligence, as opposed the combination of individual intelligences; this is obvious, though the strategies to improve a collective intelligence are not.

To conclude my series of blogs on actualizing ideas (and its relevance as part of a company strategy), I wanted to share some insights from Andrii Sedniev in his book The Business Idea Factory. He is a smart guy who has devoted himself to the art of generating ideas. Early on he makes a point that hits home with what I have been saying:

Companies succeed because of great ideas and go bankrupt because of lack of them.

New Ideas

New Ideas

He refers to Walt Disney’s three stages of thinking: dreamer, realist, and critic. You start with creative energy as you seed ideas; have an open mind (do not squash ideas). During the next stage, you figure out how to move an idea forward – realize it. In the final stage, you reflect on the idea: determine pitfalls and weigh competing ideas. (Now you do the squashing.)

Sedniev says great ideas are an extension of our life experiences. This is true. What you have and are experiencing consumes your thoughts, so new ideas are naturally sprung from these experiences. To seek inspiration, you immerse yourself in experiences related to the problem you are trying to solve – technology, applications, processes, etc. An example in my work is creating a user interface. I have to spend time tinkering with actual processes to generate new, user-friendly interfaces.

No matter what anyone tells you, great ideas are “either modifications or combinations of the old ones”. The takeaway here is twofold: be willing to adapt and evolve preexisting ideas and the novelty of an idea does not always equate its value. Few ideas do not have precedence. Just think how few thinkers foresee the future ten years in advance.

I like the “100, 20, 5, 1” rule for a group brainstorming new ideas. It says you start with 100 ideas then break the list down to 20 ideas, then 5 ideas, and finally the one idea you actualize. Admittedly starting with 100 ideas seems like a lot, so you may scale down the ratios. (I combine this rule with Disney’s three stages of thinking in the graphic above.)

He also talks about idea bombarding (rapidly coming up with a lot of ideas), an idea snowball effect (one idea leads to others), and the importance of engaging others (casual conversations). I love bouncing ideas in random encounters because you get candid, unadulterated feedback.

Finally, I hope this quote from the book is inspiring:

The world’s best thinkers are able to generate successful ideas not because they are geniuses, but because they think about ideas daily and have trained their creative muscles more than other people.


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