How do I generate ideas? How do others do it?

January 26, 2011 | Manuel Flury | Learning Elsewhere |


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Carsten Schulz
Carsten Schulz, AGRIDEA

When I first started to think about the topic of this article for the Learning and Networking Blog as a guest author I just could not find a creative idea what to write about. Some weeks before, I had made some notes on a piece of paper, but either not very exciting topics or extremely abstract ones (for the readers). The deadline was approaching and I restarted thinking on possible topics and asked my colleagues in the shared office for a small brainstorming exercise. While we were standing around a small bistro table, drinking a cup of coffee, the idea for this blog post was born.

“Do you remember moments when you were sitting alone at your desk and being blocked in getting new ideas?”

Creating new ideas is important for everybody – not only for people in (the so called) creative jobs in advertisement or public relations. Everybody’s creativity is challenged for continuously generating new ideas in professional and private life. Generating ideas is extremely important for a better understanding of what we are doing and therefore reflecting the way how we are doing things. When having creative ideas in mind, it is much easier to prevent and solve erasing problems.

In a short survey I have interviewed a heterogeneous group of people with different professional backgrounds, education and nationalities and have asked them the following question:

What are your strategies and techniques for generating new ideas?

The different patterns and strategies how people create ideas and how they develop them further are presented here.


Break the routine – leave your office room – change your environment

Most of the interviewed persons mentioned that they cannot just switch from ordinary work atmosphere to be in the mood for creativity. They need a kind of break from their routine, e.g. to breath in, turn the chair and look out of the window, or to stand up from the desk and stretch the body. For a change in environment before starting with generating ideas easy things can be done by everybody e.g. leaving the room and going to another place (e.g. the cafeteria). Others mentioned to be inspired they need an outside activity where they can move around like going for a walk, jogging in the park or swimming in the pool.


Interaction with others – or doing it alone

Depending on what people prefer – there are two main patterns in the interaction with others:

Most of the interviewed replied that their creativity is much higher when they interact with people. Some people even said that they could only find new ideas when they are in a group of people and discussing things. Those discussions may include different perspectives and controversial opinions of people – for triggering new ideas. Asking good and relevant questions can help to create such controversial discussions, which might create some interesting new ideas.

But not all interviewed people agreed on this perspective. Some mentioned that they like to create ideas by themselves . Only after they have developed rough ideas, they would involve others to discuss and further develop them.


Tools for noting down ideas

Taking note of the ideas on a piece of paper is the ordinary form for recording ideas. Others – especially those who are discussing with other people in idea storming sessions – like to use flip-chart paper for a better visualisation or even cards and pin-boards for a more structured exercise.

Especially those persons who preferred doing such idea creating exercises by themselves mentioned interesting tools to be used for taking note. One person mentioned that he has a special notepad in which he constantly writes new ideas. The use of the computer was mentioned by others, e.g. using the memo function in MS Outlook instead of writing ideas on a piece of paper, and when creating ideas outside the office during a walk, the idea is noted down as a text message on the mobile phone.


Tom Fishburn idea factory











(Cartoon from Tom Fishburne “The idea factory”  Find the whole description)

And now my question to you:

What are your patterns and strategies to generate creative ideas?


 Three selected sources for further reading:

 1. A short compendium about creativity techniques (published by a Swiss orthopaedic company):

 2. Creativity and Innovation Techniques – an A to Z. This wiki was developed by the UK based company Mycoted that specialises in Creativity and Innovation

 3. Creative thinking is a nice and website (only in German language) from a creativity trainer and book author

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