Our ability to generate ideas is a learned skill. We’re all born with a basic ability to be creative and come up with new ideas, but becoming a constant wealth of ideas is not natural to anyone. Being able to look at any situation and immediately generate a list of relevant ideas requires practice and building your “idea muscle.”
Choose Yourself by James Altucher gives a long description of how to build our idea muscle in order to become a “fountain of ideas.” He explains that we want to be someone that others naturally gravitate towards because we constantly come up with brilliant ideas that others want to share in. He also argues that this is the only way to truly be successful–to come up with great ideas and then act on them, but all of that is impossible without a strong idea muscle.
How to Build Your Idea Muscle
What’s the best way to build your idea muscle? Altucher says to come up with 10 new ideas a day. They could be ideas about anything–ways to surprise your spouse, new companies, books you could write, anything that could make your life better or make you more successful. The most important thing is that you do it every day to the best of your ability, so that you don’t allow your idea muscle to atrophy. Going a few weeks without coming up with ideas will weaken the muscle, so it requires constant diligence. Ever since I read his book I’ve been doing my best to come up with at least 10 ideas a day, and here are some ways you can do it too.
Take Every Opportunity
This isn’t so much a specific technique as it is a general tip, but take every single opportunity you can to brainstorm new ideas. There are all these little pockets of time throughout our day where we’re not really doing anything that you can take advantage of, and if you don’t use them for something then they’re just going to be wasted anyway.
Always Have Something to Write With, or Record With
I use a combination of Wunderlist on my phone and my Evernote Moleskine journal that you see in the picture at the top. I didn’t use a physical notebook for a long time, but now that I’ve started using one I realize what a great tool it is for capturing ideas throughout the day. I have it with me all the time, and I’ll frequently jot down random ideas that come to mind that I want to remember later. Wunderlist is also good for little ideas that come up that don’t need full explanations, as it will instantly sync with the rest of my devices.
Having a good voice recording app on your phone can also be very useful for catching ideas while you’re driving or falling asleep. I sometimes have great ideas when I’m about to pass out, and if I don’t jot them down I’ll lose them. Instead, I’ll leave the voice recorder on for fifteen minutes by my bed, so if I think of any good ideas I can just shout them out and have them there for me in the morning.
Some Good Opportunities to Brainstorm
Taking the time out of our days to sit down and try to come up with 10 ideas isn’t the best way to start this habit. Instead, like I said, take every opportunity to fill little bits of dead time with brainstorming and you’ll have a much easier time sticking to it and coming up with ideas throughout the day. You could:
- Turn your voice recorder on while driving. That way you can just shout out ideas and write them down later
- Bring your notebook to meetings. In the dead time waiting for everyone to show up, jot down some ideas. Also write down ideas as they come to you during boring parts of the meeting
- While walking anywhere, jot down ideas on your phone/journal as they come to you
- Grabbing a quick lunch? Perfect opportunity to give yourself some thinking time
- Doing any manual task, like washing the dishes, you can have a recorder on again or just stop and write down ideas when they come to you
Most Importantly, Reflection and Next Steps
Now that you have these great lists of ideas, the next thing to do is to have a daily or semi-daily reflection where you go through your list and decide what to do with them. Some won’t be useful, some you can do right away, some you can move elsewhere or put on your backlog, etc. You also want to identify the next step in the idea if possible–that will make it much easier to act on it in the future!