Ideas have minds of their own. They can’t be forced or coerced; they can’t be engineered to happen. In fact, they just happen. In weird places. At weird times. Yet, we so often force ourselves to generate ideas during calendared brainstorming sessions. Or, we block time to craft a document that includes all of our ideas on a given topic. As if ideas could come effectively in a 60-minute window. Could you invent Twitter even in the best of ideation sessions? I think not. Or more likely, how often have you blankly stared at your computer screen, helplessly trying to solve a problem or generate new thinking?
So, we propose that we embrace the fluidity of idea generation. Let’s not try to artificially make ideas happen so much; let’s instead give them some breathing room. Some room to grow, even fester a little. Let’s embrace ambiguity, not letting it frustrate us. Let’s take the time to mold and build an idea, not rush to blurt it out.
And let’s take it to the streets. Let’s be intentional about thinking hard about topics when we’re not in direct work mode. Like going on a hike to think, people-watching at the mall, watching TED videos to expand our mind, or getting a fresh perspective from your spouse about your business challenge. Then, there’s also always the weird times: while you’re lying in bed, working out, stuck on the freeway, in the shower, at the airport, and yes, on the potty. Sure you’d rather focus on your other activities while out and about, but wouldn't a quick 5-minute brainstorm amid your varied contexts be worth a shot?
We also suggest that we need to think more deeply on why it’s hard for us to think sometimes. Good ideas certainly need good curiosity and good needs finding work, but there’s something deeper missing. We think one of the root challenges in idea generation lies in our limited ability to truly meditate and introspect. We don’t mean just freeing our minds from the clutter, friends. We mean learning how to think deep, long, and hard, without getting frustrated. To truly meditate and introspect.
Think about our monk forefathers who lived in the desert or on high mountaintops back in the day, spending their entire waking lives rooted in deep philosophical thought. Could we bring some of that thought discipline and mentality to generating ideas? Can you maintain a zen-like focus for 30-minutes? 15? We’d all have better ideas if we became masters of meditation.
The next time you’re struggling to get some good ideas out, maybe you should get out. Literally. Maybe a trip to the forest for some meditation will do the trick.