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Four ways to get fresh ideas

Stuck for ideas? In this article, I will teach you techniques you can use to generate more.

Bin the idea that generating ideas is some kind of special skill or chance event. The truth is you can train your brain to seek inspiration.

Ideas are the very backbone of innovation. Ideas build businesses, and often success hinges upon how strong they are. Staying relevant and on top of competitors requires constant thinking, fixing and inventing.

If you're disheartened because you can't come up with new ideas, don't be.

In this article, I’m going to run you through four tricks I’ve used to generate new ideas.

Expand your horizons

You are what you eat. And if you’re eating a life full of meals at the office, it’s not surprising you're struggling to come up with ideas that are minty fresh.

When I say expand your horizons, what I mean is consume more stuff. Go to new places, meet new people, watch new television shows, read new books and learn new things.

Ideas can come from the strangest places, and it’s up to you to go to them and be open to what you see.

Picture this scenario: you’ve been struggling with how to package a new product. You’ve googled package designs. And clever package designs. And how to design good product packaging.

But you are stuck, because nothing you find solves your problem. Taking yourself out of the office could be the solution you need.

It could be that you’ll come across an interesting plant with interlocking leaves in the park. Perhaps you'll find inspiration in a current fashion, or the way fabric falls on a mannequin. You could overhear a conversation which clicks two ideas you weren’t quite sure about into focus.

Learn how to look for ideas

A key part of learning how to develop ideas is learning how to look for them, and how to look for them everywhere.

Stop being skeptical. Pull yourself up every time you dismiss an idea because it doesn't seem conventional.

You can pull inspiration from everything. You might not want a leaf pattern on your packaging design, or the colour green. But you might like the angle at which leaves fold, and choose to replicate that angle in your design.

A key part of learning how to develop ideas is learning how to look for them everywhere.

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Challenge assumptions

Imagine you are stuck in a four wheel drive, deep in a muddy trench. You’ve been four wheel driving your whole life, so you know how it works, and you’ve been in similar situations before. You know from experience that your cell is out of range and the mud is too slick. There’s bad weather on the way and the kids in the back need food and you’ll get into trouble because you will be late for dinner.

One of the downsides of experience is that we can get stuck. We think things will always be the same, or that they’ll repeat in future scenarios. Except they won’t.

You might have driven this route in this car before, but you’ve forgotten that you’ve got new tires. And that the kids are old enough to help push the car now. And that this time, your partner doesn’t care how long it takes you to get home, so long as you do it in one piece.

One of the downsides of experience is that we can get stuck. We think things will always be the same, or that they’ll repeat in future scenarios. Except they won't.

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A key part of finding solutions and ideas is to take a step back and to try to view the situation from a different angle or with a fresh perspective.

Instead of staring at a problem and listing all the reasons why things haven’t worked before, think again. Has something changed? Is there a new ingredient you can consider?

Sure, the mud is slick and your old tires weren’t up to scratch, but is there any reason to think the new ones won’t be?

Before you knock down ideas, challenge the reasons why you want to knock them down. Are they still legitimate? Do they make sense in this new context?

It might sound like challenging assumptions won’t fill you with many new ideas. But once you stop shooting down ideas, you might be surprised to discover how many you already have.

Form new habits

So you sleep six hours a night and wake up with strong coffee and work late every night.

You might think you’re working at peak productivity, but the truth could be very different. Even if you feel fine without a routine and a fixed bedtime, the benefits of them are overwhelming.

Creativity loves order. Instead of scrambling to stay up to date with work and praying you’ll get enough rest, set a schedule. Your brain might convert the stress you were feeling before into fresh ideas.

Here are three habits you can adopt that boost inspiration:

1. Sleep, sleep, and more sleep. Only, I suppose, don’t sleep too much! Aim for eight hours a night and try to always get up at the same time. If you're getting eight hours a night it can feel obsolete to set a schedule, but it does help. Routine helps your body set an internal rhythm and function better. It boosts your ability to think, along with boosting your metabolism and mood.

2. Form structured exercise routines. Run for ten minutes, do twenty sit ups and then do some weights. Or yoga. Or swimming. The what isn’t as important as the routine, because it allows you to switch off and work on autopilot. A clear head and pumping blood is a winning combination when it comes to idea generating. But make sure to stay safe and not to overexert yourself.

3. Keep a diary. There’s something meditative about taking ten to write down the events of the day. It helps order the days events in your mind. Plus, writing down thoughts can help you find connections. Having to think about the day can make you see things you didn’t notice before, and help you generate fresh ideas.

By the way, a fresh idea doesn’t always have to be a new invention. It could be as simple as you noticing that you should have reacted differently in a certain situation. Which will help you adjust your behaviour in the future.

Enable, enable, enable.

Enable? Enablers are people or things that make stuff possible. You might have heard the phrase in sentences like ‘he enabled her drinking’. But there’s no reason why enablers have to be negative.

The key thing about enablers is that they don’t do something. Instead they make it possible for things to happen.

Some great enablers for the generation of new ideas are simple.

For example getting rid of distractions can make help you focus better. Taking regular breaks helps your brain to relax and find new connections. It’s not uncommon to figure out how to put two pieces of a puzzle together after having taken a break .

One of the biggest enablers for ideas however is a strong belief in yourself. Don't sit down and think that great ideas can only come from certain people. If you think you can have ideas, you've already won half the battle.

Write down your ideas and allow yourself time to analyze them.

Change your environment. Cut down on unnecessary work. Take pauses to let your brain breathe and remind yourself that anyone can do it.

Still stuck?

Give it time. In the same way you can’t learn violin in a week, learning how to generate fresh ideas can take a while.

If you've tried everything and you're still struggling, question whether you know enough. You might not be able to solve a specific shipping problem because you don’t know how others have solved it. The solution to a problem could remain elusive because you’re not an expert in the area.

Have a look at what your competitors are doing. Look up the history of a system or service, and then explore the world with an open mind. Maybe what you want to achieve can be done, if you are willing to slightly alter your path to get there.

Do the research and talk to experts, if necessary.

You might be surprised by the amount of ideas waiting for you out there.

Lena Klein

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