A staple of creative professions, the generation of high-value, executable ideas is where the process begins. There are often times though when fresh ideas just won’t come. Having a few tricks or processes ready can help you unlock one of those blocks. Keep reading to discover a fun way of improving your idea generation with random lists. Add this to your bag of tricks to keep those ideas flowing.
The first step in creating things is to work out what it is you want to create. Blank pages paralyze. You will find it easier to choose one from these lists when you’re ready to create something new.
This technique for idea generation can shake out many fresh new concepts and perspectives. Once you have a good process for idea generation, you will have a stream of viable ideas, any time you need them.
Capture Ideas... Now!
You should always be capturing ideas that could become valuable projects. Carry a pen at all times. Have paper or a notebook nearby. Borrow pencils, napkins or scraps of paper if you have to.
In this age of digital communication, you can grab your phone and text or email that thought to yourself. Take a photo or do a video or voice recording to help jog your memory later. Recording better artifacts makes it easier to return to this moment.
If you believe you can remember it later, don’t trust yourself. Not locking in some record of the idea is the same as crumpling it up and tossing it back over your shoulder. That special idea will evaporate and float off into the universe. Lost forever. Or to be picked up by someone else with the will to act on it right away.
Ideas aren't everything
Here is the funny thing, don’t get depressed if you forgot an idea. Ideas, even amazing ones, are potential only. Great ideas, without execution, are worthless.
I’ve had several dozen million-dollar ideas in the past month. Am I a millionaire? Not yet. What is it that remains after I have an idea? The hard work is to build it into a real thing inspiring others to react. They must be able to see and discover it, which isn’t easy. People filter out most of the information that passes by.
Some ideas are almost great. Just a small adjustment from being amazing. Maybe they need refined or redirected. The act of executing an idea contributes to shaping and editing. Seeing every idea as potential helps you prune, edit, and focus on the best ones first.
Every idea has the potential to be great. Unfortunately, we are limited by our disposable time, money, and attention. Take comfort that sometime in the future, you can sit and execute idea after idea. You might also delegate it to a capable employee, whose time and attention is also limited. Carefully weigh the opportunity cost of executing each idea. Don’t let a dud distract you from a champion!
The bad news is that you will have to throw some out or put them on the stack of ideas in waiting. The best ones will keep bubbling up and nagging at you. Focus on those. Give them life.
Test them, as quickly as you can. Spotting a winner early and it will give you energy and momentum.
Commit to the chosen one. Once selected, an idea’s execution may become a long-term project, like maintaining a three post-per-week blog or writing a novel. You get to choose. If you are ever bored or discover a little down-time, choose to take action on something… anything over doing nothing.
Zig Zigler said it well, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
When you need to generate ideas, there are many processes. This technique is one you can do alone or as a fun group brainstorming exercise. It will allow outside thoughts to shake up your regular patterns of thinking.
Before you start, write out your specific objective and keep it in front of you.
Idea generation using lists
Use an unrelated, irregular list to suggest unusual thoughts. This list helps your brain cross-pollinate. You will see new and diverse connections right away. The Internet is full of lists. Here are some suggestions:
- Kentucky Derby horse names – Pick a year from 1875 to the present. Thoroughbred horses are given wildly different names. In my sample story idea generation shared at the link below, you can see I made a list combining horses from 2000 and 1900. Then I pulled any that led me to something too specific, like Impeachment and China Visit. Taking each one, I let my mind wander. Sometimes I had to Google for the meaning of the names, like Fusaichi Pegasus, again Wikipedia did not disappoint!
- Oscar nominees – Pick a year, any year and you have many fresh points of departure!
- Any news item from history that produces a list – I typed into Google “Businesses that failed” and it offered in the suggestions “2008” which brought me to this link full of rich suggestions.
It is better to take a random list like this than searching for “Lists” specifically. Web content is filled with clickbait lists like “Top 15 ways to _________”. These aren’t good prompts. They do not provide variety.
I mentioned earlier that I was doing this exercise this morning. Here is a Google doc, shared publicly for your viewing. Check it out. I plan to return to it and continue the process later. As I go from item to item new connections form. I often take one idea and connect it with an earlier one.
Perhaps these concepts won’t turn into a popular book, but this is a more effective approach than chasing wispy ideas that are floating just out of reach. These concepts in progress are advancing aggressively toward being done. Here I can pull a few ideas together and then begin the next stage where I begin plotting or outlining the story into an entertaining arc.
It is far easier to react to something you see. Put your ideas down on paper, (or electronically.) Then review them and choose the winners to build into real stories and solutions. Each round of idea generation is like casting your net into the water. The more you do, the better your options, and the stronger your best ideas can become.
>> In the comments, share a list idea or a story of a time you experienced the challenge of coming up with a good idea!
Photo: Triple Dead Heat CC0 – Public Domain