When you can’t come up with a single idea or a single good idea, you might naturally feel disappointed and frustrated. You also might feel nervous, especially when there’s a deadline to meet. A tight deadline. This is when it can help to have a few idea-generating strategies up your sleeve.
For instance, in Friday’s newsletter author Austin Kleon shared two excellent strategies: “Identify a popular idea that you despise and would like to destroy” and “Find an old opposite (preferably ancient) idea that everyone’s forgotten and resurrect it.”
Below is a range of other methods to help you come up with ideas—whether it’s an idea for a blog post, your next project, a presentation, a product, a book, some kind of solution or anything else.
- Make kooky connections. Think of this approach as a warm-up for your brain, similar to walking before running or biking for 10 minutes before you start lifting weights. Make connections between disparate topics and objects. (This is what creativity is all about.) How is the ocean like a tree? What do candles and cows have in common? This might seem non-sensical and in a way it is. But it helps us shake up our linear thinking and play. Which is always good for our brains (and hearts). After you’re done exploring seemingly illogical links, move on to other disciplines and fields. How might you relate something from psychology or art or physics with your topic?
- Become a different person. That is, try on a different perspective as you’re coming up with ideas. A completely different perspective. Maybe you wear the hat of a scientist, doctor, painter, psychologist or renowned inventor. Maybe you wear the hat of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Carl Jung or Maya Angelou or J.K. Rowling or Georgia O’Keeffe. You can pick a famous figure with a strong, specific perspective or style, and consider the ideas they’d dream up.
- Watch videos of others creating. When you’re stumped and you feel like your brain is barren, you become a ball of frustration. Which isn’t the best approach for cultivating our creativity. Personally when I feel like this, I turn to videos. Videos that show other artists or authors or scientists or anyone talking about their process, about their craft. For me this is inspiring and motivating and reminds me of the magic of creativity—and helps me get back to work.
- Brainstorm on a time budget. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write a list of 33 ideas. Don’t censor yourself. The goal is to have 33 good or bad, silly or stupid ideas. Just get something down. You can refine, revise and criticize them later.
- Squeeze out the truth. Whatever your topic, write 5 to 10 truths about it. Write several superficial truths that anyone would likely know. Then write down deeper truths, which many people might not know. If you’re unsure about these profound truths, give yourself a bit of time to research them. To really delve into your topic from different sides. (And if you don’t have a topic, pick something you’ve always wanted to learn more about, and focus your search on that.)
- Try a different format. If you normally write out your ideas, doodle or sketch them (and it doesn’t matter if you can actually “draw” or not). Or speak your ideas out loud and record them using your smartphone. Or try a mind map. Or pretend that you’re giving a talk or presentation on your ideas. What would your presentation look like? What would you say? How would you start off?
- Question. Make a list of questions you want to know the answer to. Nothing is too broad or too specific or too silly.
- Focus on yourself. Think about what you need. What do you need to hear? What do you need to make your life easier? What do you need to make sense of or understand? What are you struggling with? Let your responses guide your ideas.
- Empower your audience. How would you like to empower others? What will empower many people to live meaningful lives? How might they be kinder to themselves? Or accomplish their deepest desires and dreams? Or have fulfilling days? Or relinquish unrealistic expectations? Where can you empower others?
Pick a few strategies you’d like to try. Or let these strategies inspire you to come up with your own techniques. The key, I think, is to give yourself the space to play with any kind of idea. It’s to let your imagination out to roam wild and free. Because when we take a break from judging ourselves, our creativity is at its biggest and widest. Which is a good way to welcome all sorts of ideas.
What are your favorite ways to brainstorm ideas?