Daily Practice to Strengthen Your Idea Machine
Episode #2 of the course How to have breakthrough ideas by Eileen Purdy
One part of coming up with awesome breakthrough ideas is being able to just generate ideas in the first place. Generating ideas isn’t the only part, but it’s definitely a big piece of the puzzle—and for a good reason. Most of the inventors, thinkers, and disrupters we know about are famous because they’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, of ideas. Granted, we know about them because of that one or two that catapulted them from obscurity to the history books. But in reality, it was their ability to continually generate ideas that was instrumental to their success.
An example of this comes from the famous American inventor and businessman, Thomas A. Edison, who famously observed, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And it was his experience with the light bulb in which he reported, “I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory.” The ways that didn’t work, the theories that weren’t true, all of them were still ideas.
You, too, can become an idea machine like Edison. And if you already are one, you can get even better! To strengthen your idea muscle, you’ll need to practice with it each day.
How to Practice
A foundational way to do this is to get a notebook. This will be your idea notebook. Each day, rain or shine, write down ten ideas. If you have a problem you’re trying to solve, generate ten solutions a day. If you’re trying to create the next best thing, write ten ideas each day. Want to create a new app? Ten ideas a day. Does your business need to pivot? Ten ideas. Need to make money fast? Yep, you guessed it, ten ideas a day. If there is nothing pressing for you at the moment, practice with silly ideas, like ten ways to wash your dog or ten things to be for Halloween.
What if you can’t come up with ten ideas, you ask? Well, to borrow from James Altucher’s playbook, “If you can’t come up with ten ideas, come up with 20 ideas.” What? Yes, you read that correctly. If you can’t come up with ten, that means you are putting too much pressure on yourself. You are trying to come up with ten perfect ones, and perfectionism is the enemy of becoming an idea machine. Perfectionism is your brain trying to protect you from harm. It kicks in when it thinks your ideas are embarrassing and stupid and could cause you to suffer pain. But since this is just you making a list in the privacy of your own home, you need to override it.
The way you override your perfectionism and your inability to come up with ten ideas is to finish your list with bad ideas. That’s right—when you start to get stuck on your list of ten, let your brain off the “protection” hook by writing obviously bad ideas for the rest of the list. The clever part, however, is that you’re enabling yourself to get unstuck and continue generating ideas. Good or bad, they both serve the purpose of strengthening your idea-generating muscle.
By conditioning your idea machine, you are setting yourself up to be able to consistently and easily generate ideas. As we saw with Edison, this is a prerequisite for breakthrough ideas!
Tomorrow, you’ll get a little break. You’ll learn the incredibly valuable role of “not trying.” Yep, you heard me right!
If you want to read more on spurring creativity from one of the first to study the process, check out Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
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