3 steps to forcing your brain to give you great ideas
We tend to marvel at people who seem creative and prolific in coming up with new things. It seems like they are just born with the ability to come up with great ideas. And, we wish we were like them. But, we just aren’t that creative, and we don’t think we could ever be.
If that sounds like you, please listen carefully. Yes You Are. You are creative, you were born that way, and here’s how to take advantage of that fact to come up with your own great ideas.
Step 1: Identify and clearly state what kind of idea you are looking for.
First, you need to identify what kind of ideas you want. Is it for something artistic? A way to make money? Do you need to motivate your team? What ever it is, state it as clearly as possible in the form of a question, and write it down. Writing it down is incredibly powerful, for it makes a record of what you are looking for.
We want to be as specific as possible here. If the question we ask our brain is too vague, it gets overwhelmed and seizes up. There are simply too many possible directions to go in in order to know which one is possibly correct. We’ve all had that feeling of being “stuck”. That’s your brain simply not knowing which direction it is that you want it to go. It’s like going into a bookstore and asking for a book. Without any more information than that, the clerk simply can’t help you in a meaningful way. However, ask for a book on bird watching, or computer science, and then the clerk can guide you to the section of the store with books pertaining to your topic.
Fortunately, few of us are in the market for just “an idea”. We know that we want it to accomplish something. Don’t worry yet if your question isn’t as clear as you want it to be, we’ll be getting back to that in just a bit.
Step 2: Start your brain’s Reticular Activating System
The Reticular Activating system is a fancy way of explaining the brain’s ability to filter out things in order to focus on, or look for specific other things. For example, when you are driving in difficult traffic, your brain filters out information you don’t need right now (like the color of houses and buildings along the road) in order to allow you to focus on driving safely. However, if you tell your brain that you are looking for a specific landmark (say a specific fast-food restaurant), it will comply by bringing it to your conscious attention when it comes into view.
Want to see this work? Great, take 30 seconds and look around you. notice how many things of any sort are colored red.
You’re going to be seeing red items for a little while now, until your brain, specifically your reticular activating system, realizes it can stop looking for the color red. But here’s a question, how many yellow items were there? They were most likely filtered out so as to accomplish the task of finding red things. And, if you look for red cars while you’re travelling, you will probably not notice red houses or other red items. The brain can be quite specific in accomplishing your search.
By “placing an order”, as it were, you can put this ability to work on a topic of your conscious choosing. Tell the brain that you want a solution to a particular challenge, and it will start looking for it. look at your question from earlier, and let your brain know that you are looking for the answer. It will chug along, offering you anything that it thinks might resemble an answer.
Often, you can help it along by feeding it with possible idea-fodder. As I was trying to come up with an illustration to use as a header for this posting, I looked through a bunch of pictures on the web. I knew the topic, and asked my brain what would express my point. While searching, I found this:
I really wish I could have just stolen that, or been able to produce something with that much power, but it did prompt the image at the top of this post, and it makes my point.
You’ll want to keep track of your possible ideas, so keep a notebook, recording device, bookmarks, whatever you need to keep track of your findings.
With a handful of possibilities, we move to our next step.
Step 3: Review and Refine
Now that you have some ideas, you may feel like they aren’t good ideas yet. Here’s where our review makes things come together.
Look at one of your choices. What made you pick it in the first place? What does it have that you like? What does it have that you don’t like, that just doesn’t work? Be as specific as possible here, because by critically examining your list of potential ideas, you will be able to come up with a better question to start the cycle over with.
Back to the bookstore, if we ask for a computer book, we’ll get to the computer section of the store. Do you want something on spreadsheets? Programming? Theory? Once you’ve made that choice, you will likely flip through each book and see if it offers information that appeals to you, or more specifically, to your goal that led you to the bookstore in the first place.
Likewise, your list of ideas may be great already, but if not, “flip through the pages” of each one. Does it address all the issues you need? Does it have anything unappealing that might distract from your goal? If so, what would be a better solution?
I love the image of the guy with the coffee cup, but I didn’t want readers to see the cup and wonder how it played into my topic. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered either way, but it makes a difference to me, so having an image without the cup is a better idea in my mind.
Finally, use your findings to refine your original question, and set your reticular activating system on a more specific search, with more clearly defined parameters. It may take some time, but I think you’ll be amazed at what you’re able to accomplish with this powerful tool of functional creativity.