The first step in creating something, is to work out what it is you want to create. We’ve talked through this blog about the obstacle of the blank page. There are techniques to help you shake out a lot of potential ideas. Once you have a good process for idea generation, you will have plenty of viable ideas, any time you need them.

You will find it far easier to select one of these to refine and advance into the real thing that you will create next.

Capture ideas, NOW!

You should always be capturing thoughts that could become valuable ideas. I try to always carry a pen. But if you don’t have one when a juicy idea hits you, borrow a pen, text or email it to yourself. Take a photo or voice recording to help jog your memory later. The more artifacts you can lock down to help return to this moment, thought or feeling, the more likely you are to cultivate it into something of value later.

If you feel like you can recall it later, don’t trust yourself. To not lock in a record in some way, is the same as crumpling it up and tossing it back over your shoulder. That valuable idea will evaporate and float off into the universe. Lost forever, or picked up by someone else with the will to act on it.

Here is the funny thing, don’t get depressed if you forgot an idea. Ideas, even amazing ones are only the potential to win big. All great ideas, without some form of 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 real thing for others to react to. They must discover it, understand and respond. I, and others around me, filter many potential ideas out. Even ones that are great, but they sound a little off. Maybe they need refined or redirected. A person who sees that every idea as the potential to be big, but also is a ruthless editor, is on their path toward being a great creative.

Filter well

I just said that every idea has potential to be great. Unfortunately, we are limited by our disposable time, money and attention. Once you’ve made it big, you can sit in a big chair and execute idea after idea. You can delegate it to the capable employees you have gathered around you. They will execute every notion you desire, but the resource of their time and attention is also limited. Carefully weigh the opportunity cost of executing each idea. Don’t let a dud, rob your time and attention from a champion!

The bad news is that you will have to throw some out or at add them to the stack of waiting ideas. The best ones, should keep bubbling up to your attention. Focus on those. Bring them to life, even as a market test, as quickly as you can. You can spot an early winner and then build its momentum. You can commit to a long-term project, like maintaining a three post-per-week blog or writing a novel. You get to choose. Choose to take action on anything over doing nothing. Zig Zigler said it well, "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time."

Ideation rituals

When you need to generate ideas, here is a process. There are many ways to do this. This procedure is a fun one that will allow outside thoughts to shake up your regular patterns of thinking.

Before you start, write out the requirements or your vague objectives and keep them in front of you.

Idea generation using lists

Use an irregular list to suggest things to your mind. Picking a list that is not related to the topic you have in mind. It helps to cross-pollinate your thinking. You will see a variety of diverse connections right away. The Internet is full of lists. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • 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 "Top 15 ways to _________" and other lists like that. These aren't helpful because they do not provide much variety and it is very easy to get sidetracked feeling like you need to flatten your belly, clean your desk or check your investments.

More idea generation exercises are coming, stay tuned. I have many.

My example

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 will return to it and continue the process after this post is up. In a couple cases, as I go from item to item connections may form. I took one idea and figured out a way to connect it with an earlier connection.

Perhaps these concepts won't turn into a popular book, but this is more effective than a wispy idea that is floating in the ether of my imagination. 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