It’s Not A Dark Art: How Coming Up with New Ideas Can Be Understood and Learned (Part 1)

Do you ever get stuck trying to come up with a new idea? Does the thought of creating ideas flood you with anxiety? You’re not alone, I’m right there with you. Constantly coming up with great ideas is part of many professional roles. Being ‘the ideas person’ can form the basis of a person’s reputation. Yet for many, idea generation feels difficult, inconsistent, stressful and outside of their wheelhouse (it’s definitely not!). In this blog, we explore how to minimise the pain and maximise the efficiencies of idea generation.

What's Your Type?

Yes, Ideas Have a Type

First, it’s important to recognise that there are different types of ideas that may or may not require different approaches. Knowing which type of idea you are working on can offer you a more focused approach. Here are a few different types of ideas:

These ideas are completely new—they never existed before. Starting an idea from scratch requires a lot of development to bring new thoughts to life. Archie, the internet’s first search engine, is an example of a blue-sky idea, there was nothing like it at the time. Such ideas are rare and unique. In most instances, the benefits of this type of idea become more clear as the idea develops.

These ideas have a jumping-off point, they’re usually based on adjustments to an idea that already exists. For example, altering or varying products, processes, or procedures for improvement. You build on an existing platform to create a better, different or evolved version. This is one of the most common types of ideas and can be applied to almost anything, anywhere. Tweak ideas often seek to increase efficiency and broaden opportunities.

These ideas come from experience and expertise where you see an opportunity for improvement. Your understanding of an existing system or method helps you invent a better way to execute certain tasks. Usually, experience ideas develop over time, as knowledge drives creation.

It’s possible to be too close to an idea and you need fresh eyes. An outsider can generate ideas based on their observation. They often have limited experience or expertise in the required space but offer a different perspective with a new approach in thinking.

This idea has no purpose or relevance and it may come out of nowhere, inexplicably becoming a good idea. An irrelevant idea may or may not be able to exist on its own and could be connected to other ideas for overall improvement to an existing problem.

Hybrid ideas combine some or all of the different types of ideas. The best bits are put together to create a more optimal outcome. These ideas are like Frankenstein’s monster of ideas and it may take time to put all the right pieces together. Hybrid ideas are better suited to complex and iterative ideas that have multiple facets and aspects to address.

Your Ideas Matter

Knowing Your Type

There are other ways to understand ideas but this list captures most of the common types. Understanding the type of idea you are developing enables you to pragmatically focus your efforts and craft your idea concisely. Knowing the type of idea you need hopefully removes some of the anxiety and stress you feel when generating ideas.

In Part 2, I’ll examine a process for generating ideas that you can adapt and make work for you. Before I finish, here are three quick and easy things I do to that make coming up with ideas easier:

1. Ask questions to yourself and any collaborators.

Your questions may include:

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What type of idea am I working on?
  • What do I know that could make developing this idea easier?
  • What do I need to know to make my idea successful?

2. Give yourself time to come up with your idea.

Once I’ve done my initial research, brainstorming and analysis, I move my attention away from idea generation and to something else.I keep aspects of the idea on my mental back burner and do something manual, such as cooking. For me, this balances the yin of thinking with the yang of doing helps ideas develop easier.

3. Keep notebooks around.

I use one without lines so I don’t see limitations. A lot of my ideas present as lists, diagrams or models in the initial stages. I have a notebook in my bag, beside my bed and at my desk. My ideas usually come when I am in a relaxed mood as my brain has permission to wander, creating new connections and insights.

To finish, idea generation can be a really satisfying activity in any part of your life whether it’s at work, home or out-and-about. Don’t be afraid to try, as practice makes you better at it!

All Ideas Grow Out of Other Ideas

Author avatar
Elizabeth Snuggs
A deep thinker who loves creating optimal strategies for competitive advantage and long-term business success. Likely found binge-watching sci-fi shows, designing her dream house and drinking wine – often all at once.
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