Where Do Good Ideas Come From?
Good ideas have a ton of value in today’s hyper-competitive market. I have met some crazy talented people in my life that just seem to flow with awesome ideas. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent on the way I think and ideas come and go in my mind at a furious and frequent pace. However, for as many ideas as I have come up with in my life (my wife would say it's an exhausting number), only a few have turned out to be good ones. So, where do good ideas come from? I’m not talking about the characteristics, what I really want to think through is the source. Where do they come from? How do I optimize to produce them? Why do I get frustrated when good ideas don’t seem to come and I feel like Emmett from the Lego Movie when he says, “I never have any good ideas.”
Over the years, I haven’t really encountered anyone that has a magical ability to conjure up a good idea at a moment's notice. If that’s you, please reach out! Sure, sometimes we hit the mark at the first shot, but that’s more about good fortune than trying to set yourself up for more predictable results. Can the production of good ideas be predictable? I think with many things it’s not about guaranteeing the result, it’s about guaranteeing the effort. It’s about stacking the deck in your favor to the point that good results are a natural outcome. So, where do good ideas come from? Let’s think through this together…
Your Environment has the greatest effect
Our minds are very much programmable. Years of research into cognitive behavioral therapy has produced an immense amount of data regarding the malleable nature of our minds and how our environment is a major factor in how we think.
Environment is like the foundation of a house or building. It's like basic training for military professionals or essential skills development for athletes. Here’s what I mean… I have always had a fascination with aviation, in fact, my Dad spent his whole working career in flight simulation. These multi-million dollar machines mimic the in-flight experience without ever leaving the ground. I used to get to fly them sometimes when I would visit him at work. The most incredible video game ever! This begs the question though, why is there such a thing as a flight simulator? The whole purpose of the simulator is to as closely as possible mimic the flight experience or environment so that pilots can practice flight scenarios to prepare them for real-world experiences. I’ve asked my nephew, who happens to be a new airline pilot, how do they remember all of the things they need to remember, especially during emergency situations? He said they go through exhaustive instruction in a training environment that prepares them for the real thing.
Where do good ideas come from? It begins much like learning to be an excellent pilot, you need to set up your environment such that producing good ideas is a natural outcome. This environment would include things like being very intentional about the books you read, how you take care of your health (which translates into clear thinking and energy), and what you allow yourself to focus on. I’m really talking about your internal environment. How well do you understand your strengths and weaknesses? Can you play to your strengths and put frameworks in place to help you with your weaknesses? In other words, what is the environment like inside your head? Is it open to new input and experiences or closed off? If we want to produce more good ideas, we need to clear the deck and create an environment inside our minds that allows for creativity.
Experience is a producer
As I think back through my life, there have been more times than I can count where I have been frustrated with what I call, idea paralysis. I would look around at all the super talented people I can see and wonder why they have been able to make good on their ideas, but I can’t seem to generate anything that matters. It wasn’t until recently that I believe I have figured this out.
Good ideas are not like magical epiphanies where you are just going along one day and a “good idea” comes from out of nowhere that’s completely unassociated with anything you know, and you’re like “Yes!” that’s it. It doesn’t happen this way. I guess I always thought this was how it worked and there was something wrong because it never worked like that for me. I’ve spent many years in introspective agony over this subject until I realized the common denominator for all good ideas.
That common denominator is experience. Yep, that’s it. Not any old experience mind you, I am talking about your own experience or experiences. Good ideas come from work you have done, conversations you have had, domains that you have insight into, people you’ve gotten to know, and personal interests. Think of experiences as things you have touched in your life. Good ideas come out of those experiences because you have some knowledge or basis to form ideas. What I mean is… it is highly unlikely that I would come up with a great product idea for Elon Musk. I’m a space geek, but I don’t have any experience with rocket science, astrophysics, or whatever scientific discipline the smart people at SpaceX have. Does that mean I am incapable of producing good ideas? Of course not! I just don’t have any experience or context that would produce a good rocket scientist idea. I do have a lot of professional experience in Finance and IT as well as entrepreneurship. Coming up with good ideas in these domains is likely given my experience. Think about this in terms of what you do and the experiences you’ve had. If your job requires good ideas, lean on your experiences. If you’re an entrepreneur looking for your next business idea, lean on your experiences.
Who you surround yourself with is the ignition
So we’ve put a lot of work into setting up our personal environment to keep our minds open to possibilities. We now understand that experience is the common denominator to generating good ideas. We’re ready for the good ideas to start printing right? Not quite. There is one more ingredient for this recipe.
Every fire begins with an ignition. Something that sparks something to life and begins to burn. Good ideas require a spark or ignition to really present themselves. I think of that ignition as the inspiration we receive from others around us. I am talking about others who have also set up their environments to produce good ideas too. Others who also lean on their experiences as the source for good ideas. It is these people we need to surround ourselves with. Why? Their support, input, and validation will work against our own negative self-talk and help us have the courage to say, “yeah… I have a good idea.”
We can never forget we are all humans and have many things in common. We all struggle with tying our self-worth to producing things of value (such as good ideas). We also get very disappointed in ourselves when we perceive we are failing in this regard. Remember… there is no magic in the real world. There really is no secret sauce. Work on improving your personal environment to allow for more creativity. Think through all of your experiences. Write them down. Evaluate who you spend the most time with and who you should spend more time with. You are fully capable of producing crazy good ideas… and so am I.
A final thought…
Going back to my story about flight simulators. Someone had an idea one day to create a machine that would mimic the flight experience to better train pilots in a safer environment. Fantastic idea right? Who came up with this idea? See if you can pick out the source of this “good idea”.
The concept of a flight simulator was the brainchild of a gentleman named Edwin A. Link. Edwin was born in 1904 and began taking his first flying lesson in 1920. By 1927, he was the first customer to take possession of a Cessna airplane. He made a living by barnstorming, charter flying, and giving flight lessons. How did he ever come up with the idea for a flight simulator? :) Environment, experience, inspiration. Now… it’s your turn!