Ideas can come from anywhere.
I feel like that statement is a riff from that memorable line from Brad Bird’s masterpiece ‘Ratatouille‘. Whether it results in a whole new company, an idea for a partnership, or a simple thing that makes your clients smile a little bit wider every time they work with you —- it’s a precious thing.
“But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” – Anton Ego (Ratatouille)
The biggest challenge with ideas is that they sometimes don’t seem like good ones. Sometimes even the good ones seem to be the eureka moment you’re waiting for, only to find out that it doesn’t get you quite there.
One thing I’ve learned is the biggest difference in both coming up with them (like James Altucher’s approach of writing 10 ideas a day) and implementing them is curiosity. So I’ve reached out to 365 people to find out the activities that helped them nurture their curiosity.
You can find the first 20 of them here:
The point of this strategy is having something to action consistently. This is particularly helpful if you find yourself delaying (ahem — procrastinating), in taking action in general. The 24 hour deadline forces your brain to make decisions quick, as well as decide on what’s really important. You may have difficulty letting go during the first 10 days (hopefully less!), but if you commit to the process, it’ll be easier as you progress (and your mind would likely be coming up with ideas that you could execute quickly as well!)
“I have always learned best by doing. I knew that a shift to video was coming and I wanted to understand everything about it that I could but I know it was going to be difficult so I committed to not making any more decisions….until my 100 vides were completed. I knew it would get hard and I would want to quit, so I removed that thought from the equation.” – Skyler Irvine, Marketer
This is best done when your mind is not cluttered with ideas relating to progressing what you already have in the works. If you want to do this exercise, just progress your to-do list as much as you can, and when you get to the point that you’re almost drained (or maybe drained)…think of something you’d like to work on and just focus on the works to describe it.
Say you’re choosing your next start-up and have four choices: put all that aside and just do the exercise. Once you’re done compare your 20 words, the hope is one of the four would be closer to your list than all the others.
“….my favorite book on the subject of creativity is ‘How to get ideas’ by Jack Foster. I love it so much, there is a quote by James Webb Young: ‘An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.’ I love that quote because I love making word lists, I just create a large list about what I think I would like to make a painting about and then just let the words do the work, I let all the ideas and concepts that come with a word, and build off of the concepts, I look for connections, things that normally wouldn’t be uttered in the same sentence and find the thread that connects.” – Allen TenBusschen, painter
Start with the scores of films you’ve enjoyed.. If that doesn’t yield something, attempt to think of films that slightly different than the ones you’d usually go for. If you are more of the ‘In The Bedroom‘ and ‘House of Sand And Fog‘ kind of film buff, you can work your way slowly to something lighter. Maybe Go for ‘500 Days Of Summer‘ and ‘Grace Is Gone‘ before jumping to ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘The Blind Side’.
“I think I’m always listening to the Game of Thrones soundtrack while working on my pieces, not only the GoT artworks but most of the others as well…Music has always been such a huge part of my creative process and I really can’t get my inspirational juices flowing if I’m not accompanied by a good movie score.” – Nathanna Érica, Illustrator
One of the important things during a get together is people in attendance feel like this is their tribe. This is why when stand-up comics perform, they tend to open with a question for the audience to answer. This is also why a number of speakers do it (“Show of hands? Who flew in from Cambridge?”). The key is to understand your audience and if you are brave enough to experiment during those first few times you are in front of them (what makes them interested compared to what makes them reach for their phone and stop paying attention to you).
“Part of my world revolves around music journalism for apparel companies and whenever I attend concerts I find that the newer bands often feel compelled to talk to the audience in order to establish a persona and to make an “early, fun show” — one that is memorable. That being said, some of the best shows I’ve seen have been a legacy act or someone who otherwise doesn’t say a word during the entire set.” – Jake Tully, Content Curator
Are you fond of taking things apart and then putting it back together? I remember when I used to watch films on VHS, there would be times when I’d get a fuzzy picture and I’ve learned to have a look (unplugging the VHS player from the socket first!) at it and see if there are any little dust bunnies that would cause the fuzz.
My go-to cleaner was rubbing alcohol and cotton buds. I’ve found myself constantly drawn to finding out the process behind a specific output. Probably more now, as I’ve found myself really enjoying a film or a TV show more if the creators took a bit more time to add more content like commentaries.
“My lightbulb moment came in reading Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat book on screenwriting. Then I applied his 15 beats to story to a brand’s conference. We had the challenge of launching four new products to 3,500 international distributors, so we wrote a two-hour play and the place loved it. Some said it was the best product launch ever, and I think it was because we followed an intentional story structure that bewitched the audience.” – Park Howell, Brand Strategist
You’ve been hearing it countless times right? Even if you’re a founder who would only be dealing with generalities when it comes to the nitty-gritty bits of your startup…there is still benefit in learning to speak another language
“I design with code in mind.. I see design as a tool for production rather than an end in itself. My design work became much more thorough and thoughtful after learning how to code.” – Rich Armstrong, Product Designer
We all have something that annoys us. Now I’m not asking you to write about something you hate, and just lash out (Though there are times it is part of the journey). Maybe you might be able to find a better way of doing things…or help the next Stephen King find his way as a writer.
“I think what got me interested in writing – and this is a bit of a weird story – I discovered a ‘hate’ site for the band Hanson called “We Hate Hanson Girls!” when I was 14. As I read the types of responses they crafted for their haters (they had a mailbag feature), I was astonished by how intelligent and well read they were. That inspired me to create my own anti-Hanson site, which is exactly what I did. Obviously, my projects have evolved since those times, and today I generally create content to add value to the world, not to take away from it. But these events led me to keep going deeper into vocabulary, writing, and so on.” – David Wiebe, Writer.
You can even make it a bit of a game spending 5 minutes on each shelf (if you’re a quick browser), setting a timer and moving on only after the 5 minutes are done. Limit yourself to a number of items (maybe 4) and grab ones that catch your eye. Another way you could vary the exercise is just focusing on a certain section of the library (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Magazines, Young Adult).
Tip: It helps if you are relaxed and are in an open state of mind.
“A few years ago I was in my school’s library working on a term paper when I decided to take a break, wander around and stretch my legs. I picked up this unassuming book off the shelf- it didn’t have a flashy cover and looked like it hadn’t been checked out in decades, but I decided to give it a chance. The book was about the mythology of flowers, plants and trees. I checked it out, fell in love with it, and ended up buying my own copy once I graduated. Last year I created an entire series of drawings based off of the stories which initiated my career as an artist. I probably wouldn’t have come across the opportunities I have today if I never had picked up that book!” – Emily Ryan, Illustrator
An alternative option if you prefer to investigate your local wildlife. You can either make them your subjects (as Jasper did) or just let you mind wander while you watch an ecosystem grow after each passing day.
“I put about 3 kg of soil, compost, leaves and a piece of root in an empty aquarium…just to see what would happen. I knew the root had a lot of isopods and was a good start to building an ecosystem within the aquarium. Because it was cold outside it all came to life very fast inside. Two small spiders started building webs right away. I had about 50 small flies and 10 larger flies move in during the coming weeks from the soil I added. And there’s a lot to see: isopods, worms, snails, a millipede and other small insects walking around if you take a good look every time you pass. Also a few plants started sprouting. Very interesting to see how much is going on, in this little (40 x 25 cm) world.” – Jasper Oostland, painter
Once you’ve hit that wall a couple of times, you might not want to ram yourself against it again (maybe if you had a pillow — though you’d likely still get the same result). You know the thing they say about feelings (that they’ll likely mislead you)? How about let your feelings trick you into getting back to it?
Not really procrastinating, unless you already come into your next idea and still choose to let yourself be pulled into the YouTube cat video rabbit hole!
“…when I’m not feeling like creating I typically do exactly what I feel like doing instead (reading, going on a walk, doodling, napping, watching TV, etc.) and I find that I almost always, within an hour or two, my thoughts and inclinations come back to the creative task at hand. It always seems to come back to making something!” – Danny Clay, Composer
Even if they are for your 8 and 10 year old kids, there are a number of opportunities to hang out with the other adults. Maybe as one of the chaperones!
Of course, even if you don’t end up doing business deals with the other parents in attendance…your mind would benefit a breath of fresh air while conversing with youngsters.
“I recently attended a children’s 4th birthday party, and met a mum there who I ended up doing a business deal with . I attend lots of birthday parties with my daughter but never expect to do deals there!” – Rachel Carrell, Founder
Even if you think it’ll be boring. If it ends up turning out way better than you expected, you win. If it doesn’t….you get to stretch your mind a bit.
“Throughout my childhood my family and I hiked across mountain ranges and through forests across New Zealand. It gave me a deeper appreciation for my home country, nature, photography and art. It continues to inspire me to explore, not just out in the world but on the canvas too. I definitely never requested those trips! In fact I had a tendency to be kind of lazy. My parents were always big on stuff like that though, that’s actually how they met, at the local tramping club. I think they recognized the value of those expeditions and wanted to instill those values into my brothers and I. It was definitely a mission getting all of us to co-operate sometimes but it was an amazing experience nonetheless. I have so many incredible memories of those days, even from when I was so small I could comfortably fit in the top of dads pack, my head poking out the top, and he’d carry me like that for miles. I was a very very lucky kid.” – Laura Davies, Illustrator.
Aren’t there things you can enjoy better when you’re hanging out with someone that young? Whether its the fearlessness of asking questions (What’s Jazz?) or not being embarrassed when mispronouncing Michael Bublé’s last name (bubble). If you don’t have any scheduled time with your godkids this week, you can also gift yourself a copy of ‘What We Did on Our Holiday’ and get inspiration from Jess & Mickey (maybe not the part that involved a makeshift raft to honour a memory of a loved one).
“I had the most wonderful childhood. My sister and I are 18 months apart only (I’m the older one) and we are best friends. Our parents are only turning 60 now and have been together for the past 45 years. I know this is a very very very rare example of when something like this actually works out. Acknowledging (being aware of!!) that special gift and being thankful for it every day is a key element for me. From an early age on, our parents have encouraged us to explore, take risks (although they never phrased it like this!), be fearless, be confident. (Who would let their child move to South Africa at age 16?? I had to fight hard for this one but I was determined to make it happen. My parents would have liked me to go to the USA like so many of my friends. Eventually they gave in. Since then we’ve all understood why it was meant to happen – that experience has shaped my path and my understanding of the world ever since.)” – Melina Ex, Co-Founder
It might be something as adrenaline pumping as spending an hour in an indoor skydiving range or more low-key like meditating while floating on your back in a pool (maybe even after your workout!).
“From a young age I skied down hills and mountains. I retain the kinesthetic in my body and psyche of feelings of movement including weightlessness, of almost flying. I recently realized that this feeling of movement is a big part of my creative urge and is why movement shows strongly in my art. I ski a couple times a year, not much and usually with my daughter at Whistler. I do get feelings of movement and flight from occasionally turning on the music and dancing around in my studio.” – Chris Maynard, Illustrator
That doesn’t mean that you have to force yourself in reading graphic things when you already know that it’s something that doesn’t help you. Maybe start with a recommendation from a good friend who is into detective thrillers. Still stuck? How about asking a friend to ask their friends?
“I love reading novels from best-of lists in genres I don’t usually read. I recently picked up a few encyclopedias (of mythology and Culpepper’s Complete Herbal, which I heard JK Rowling loves!), and have been using it to help enrich a fantasy idea I’m working on.” – Ashlyn Anstee, Illustrator
It could be from users, reluctant users (like those from focus groups or those who have chosen to use another product), or people within your team. Sometimes it’s their actions instead of words that you have to focus on to find new avenues to explore.
“At the time that Facebook opened up their messenger API, there was only one major airline that had a messenger bot which was still kind of in a prototype stage and wasn’t really responding in real time and you were not able to search flights. We wanted to hit three goals: a) Getting the first functional messenger bot out there, before any other airline; b) Being able to smoothly search for flights as fast as possible; c) Being able to book any flight directly in messenger. C was certainly the hardest as we had to find a way to take as little info as possible from a user, returning the most relevant flights. In the end thankfully, we we able to solve all 3 challenges and the messenger bot ended up having a super high conversion rate. It turns out a lot people prefer conversational format for booking things if the booking experience is structured well.” – Zach Van Ness, Designer
Of course it’ll be great if you can ask six or even ten, before you assume something about the way a person is. Would you want to risk never meeting one of the best friends you could have because you thought they looked (or behaved) similarly to someone who has hurt you deeply in the past?
“The thing that I did to ignite my curiosity was shift the focus from me (thinking I knew everything about my mom or making assumptions about my mom) to wanting to learn about, and understand, her. I wanted to see, hear and truly understand my mom. Which is ultimately what we all want in our lives, to be seen, heard and understood.” – Kirsten Siggins, Co-Founder
I know it’s not an easy task to find a place that so much hinges on. So next time you are off to somewhere new, get your friends to ask not only how it was…but also how it FELT while you were there. Then once you find it (it may not even be a city), be sure to schedule regular visits and not only when you get to ‘almost burned out’.
“I try to visit Amsterdam every couple of years. I still consider it home even though I haven’t lived there since I was 15 years old. I notice every time I return home, I am inspired to a whole new level. I met with 2 childhood friends who now had her their own businesses and were so happy with their decision. When I returned back home, I seriously started exploring the idea of manufacturing an accessory I had thought about for a while. I had zero experience in launching a product, but I knew if I set my mind to it, I too can follow my dream of being an entrepreneur. And so it began. It took exactly 1 year from inception to the product, the Bra Bridge arriving at my doorstep and I have never been happier.” – Judith Samson, Founder
There has been a big focus on settling on one area of expertise not just for start-ups and writers. That’s all good. The big challenge is getting there. Sometimes getting there there has to be time spent on other areas to unearth that one area. In ‘Creativity Inc‘ Pete Docter mentions an archaeological-like process (slowly dusting off the dross to reveal the story rather than bending the elements on what you think the story should be) he follows in his past films within Pixar.
Are your customers clamouring more of that one thing? Is your balance sheet blatantly telling you that you are selling one service compared to all the other five you provide?
“I tried every medium I can get my hands on, from wire to ink, leather to embroidery. You never know where the next ideas will come from. In the end, wire became my primary medium for my sculptures. It was the first creative outlet that people really rallied around and supported, and it came very easily, so it’s been easy to grow and innovate.” – Alison Brynn Ross, Sculptor
Whether it is painstakingly replying to the 500 emails you received last month, accepting additional speaking engagements, or implementing the margin in your schedule to ensure that you are able to mindfully listen to as many comments as possible about your work. It’s amazing how much insight other people can give (whether it comes across kind or unkind) that can help move a project to the next level.
“I decided to accept a part-time job at an elementary school helping 7th graders to illustrate their own children’s book for an English class. The job was a brief position with a couple classroom visits and grading that I was personally selected to participate in, so I did not have to be convinced to apply or anything like that. I thought I would be a good fit because I already had illustration experience, published works to show, and was an alumni of the school so I knew many staff members. I also felt young enough to relate to the students in ways of pop culture and relevant examples. I learned so much about my own illustration field by doing research for presentations and going through the process of explaining storyboard concepts to students. It forced me to research techniques I would not have on my own and reflect on reasoning behind my design methods. My art is much improved because of that research and seeing firsthand how students develop their own styles.” – Faryn Hughes, Illustrator
For extra content (like links from contributors mentioning this series and future posts), I’ve made an entry on my personal blog.
What kind of activities help you find your creative edge? I look forward to your thoughts via Twitter!