How To Come Up With Great Ideas

I recently came across a book by James Webb Young called “A Technique for Producing Ideas“. Though he presented the ideas from the book in 1939, his thoughts for generating great ideas are just as pertinent today as they were back then.

If you want to jump start your creative juices and begin producing great ideas…here is the 5 step ideation process that our mind follows to generate ideas.

1. Gather Information

In this step, you simply gather raw material. It’s about increasing your knowledge base by reading books, studying material, and writing things down.

Our problem is that we would rather sit around and hope that inspiration just comes to us. Unfortunately, our brains don’t work that way and it is a feeble attempt to jump to the end of the ideation process.

Gathering information requires that we collect everything. Young recommends carrying around 3×5 index cards to write down the specific information as you gather it. I personally use Evernote for this task. It’s always available to me on my iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. I can clip web articles, input audio notes, or type in information manually.

Whatever method you choose, the key is to collect everything and have a process for filing it away so you can recall it later.

2. Connect The Dots

This is where you take the different bits of material that you have gathered and begin to look at it in a different light. Process the material over and over in your mind, looking for patterns and relationships to see how the different pieces of information fit together.

As new thoughts or partial ideas come up, write them down as well. Even if they seem crazy at the time, get them down. These have the makings of the real idea that is to come.

Fight through mental block during step 2 until you’ve exhausted all possible combinations. Once you reach the point where everything is jumbled in your mind and no clear insight is available, then you are ready for step three.

3. Leave It Alone

Put your thoughts and partial ideas aside and let your subconscious do it’s thing. Just drop the whole subject entirely and work on an unrelated task or do something that stimulates your imagination and emotions. Go to a movie, hang out with friends, read a book, or listen to music.

Letting go and giving your mind some space to work allows your ideas to germinate, grow and expand. This leads to fresh insights when you return to your thoughts in step 4.

4. The “Aha” Moment

Out of nowhere the idea will appear. This often happens when you least expect it…while in the shower, in the middle of the night, or on the commute to work.

You’ve gathered data (step 1), mulled it over to the nth degree (step 2), and dropped it to do something else (step 3)…then you have that “aha” moment.

5. Shape & Develop

This is reality check time for your idea. It’s unlikely that your idea is ready to be implemented as is so you have to hold it up to the harsh light of scrutiny. Share your idea with others and apply the feedback to make it workable. This is where you test, edit, refine and polish your idea. 


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5 responses to “How To Come Up With Great Ideas”

  1. Samuel John (@missionsmanual) Avatar
    Samuel John (@missionsmanual)

    Love it. Number 3 and 4 are great techniques. I often get the ‘aha’ moment in bed right before falling asleep. Then I have trouble remembering it when I wake.

    1. eric echols Avatar
      eric echols

      Those “aha” moments often come to me when I least expect it. I’ve had to put a pen and paper near the bed to jot those ideas down when they happen in the middle of the night. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Dan Black Avatar
    Dan Black

    Great post Eric. I found personal growth is a great idea and thought generator. I know if I’m growing and learning it will move my ideas and creativity forward.

    1. eric echols Avatar
      eric echols

      Dan, so true. Personal growth creates a constant flow of new ideas.

  3. eric echols Avatar
    eric echols

    Reblogged this on Eric Echols and commented:

    I’m taking a little time off for the next couple of weeks, so I’m going to be posting some of my more popular posts. Call it a “greatest hits”…not that I’m saying my writing is great, these simply have gotten the most hits. Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share these on Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook.

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