What was the last thing you discovered? I mean really discovered. Not just a link that you found interesting or an article that you thought was moderating intriguing — but a life-interrupting ‘uncovering of knowledge’ that immediately adjusted your lens on the world around you. When was the last time you had one of those discoveries?
— In Praise of Discovery by James Shelley
... are everywhere. You just have to look.
Techniques like brainstorming try to sell a way of generating ideas in a short space of time, but is there a better way?
Out of the blue you have an idea for something. A product, a book, a service, something. What do you do with it? The obvious answer here is to write it down. Anywhere. Whatever comes to hand, get that idea down. Give it an hour or two and you might simply forget it even existed.
Great. Now what?
The next step for many is to re-visit this idea at some point in the future and decide whether to act on it or not. The down side to this is that while the idea might have sounded great on its own, it is only one idea. One single good thought.
If the idea is so good then you might be thinking that it would be a challenge to improve upon it. What's better than a single idea though? How about two, three or even seven ideas that support this one single idea?
The problem is that while we might want to set aside a 30 minute session to brain storm more ideas to support this new idea of ours, the new ideas we want might not simply be there. You can't force yourself to come up with new ideas. You might be able to expand on an idea but limiting yourself to a time period will only leave you with a couple of new ideas.
If you're the patient type then how about trying a different approach?
Let your ideas incubate.
I've wrote before about incubating mind maps in the past. Rather than starting and finishing a mind map in a single session, I would re-visit my mind map on a weekly basis to give myself time to allow the central topic of the mind map to sink in. The benefits to this is that you allow yourself time to think about the central topic of the mindmap thereby allowing associations to that central topic to develop over time.
The same can be said for new ideas.
By allowing an idea to incubate over time, it gives us a chance to think about the idea. Thoughts and ideas often come at the most inconvienent of times. When you're walking the kids to school, when you're out on a bike ride, when you're anywhere other than on your computer to execute the idea.
This is a good thing though. Being away from your desk or your workplace means that you don't act on a sudden impulse to test the idea. Just make a note of it and then carry on with your day.
At the end of the day, make a more permanent note of your idea so that it can be easily found later along with any other ideas that you have had that support this idea.
Give it a couple of months and you should start to see that single idea develop into something more. And this is the benefit to incubating your ideas. An incubation period of two months can yield more positive results than a single brainstorming session could. It's not for everyone though, but I'm more of a believer that slow and steady wins the race.