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Coming Up With Ideas - 10 Tips & Tricks

Updated on March 5, 2012
Thomas Edison reminds us of the rules for creativity. Lightbulb image by ppdigital, Edison quote added by Doc Sonic.
Thomas Edison reminds us of the rules for creativity. Lightbulb image by ppdigital, Edison quote added by Doc Sonic. | Source

At some point we all find ourselves searching for an idea. Whether you're a writer trying to break through a bad case of writer's block, or you just want an idea for a new dessert tonight, here are 10 tips and tricks that can help.

There Are No Rules Here

First the rules: When asked by a new employee what the rules were for working in his laboratory, Thomas Edison said, "Hell, there are no rules here, we are trying to accomplish something".

That is the only hard-and-fast rule about creativity: There are NO rules. It doesn't matter how things have always been done, or how you think they should be done. You don't have to continue doing them that way.

In fact, there are few things that stimulate creativity more than INTENTIONALLY BREAKING THE RULES (the "rules" being however you believe things must be done). If you usually keep your ideas on index cards, write them in crayon on colored construction paper. If you usually change out of your pajamas and get dressed for the day before working at your computer, sit down at the computer naked instead. Keep your brain guessing!

Tips and Tricks For Getting Ideas

Now that you know the rules, here are some tips and tricks that can help you be more creative:

01. See the world differently. At any given moment, we only perceive a small amount of what is around us. What you need may be right beside you, if only you could see it. Go past first impressions, and make a conscious effort to really observe what is around you. Look for the unnoticed and unusual in the commonplace.


02. Don't be afraid to "borrow". Use an existing idea (even someone else's) as a starting point. It's not unethical. Writers, composers and other creative folk do it all the time - especially when called on to create "on demand". It's simply to get the process started. Take an idea and turn it upside-down and backwards. Make it bigger or smaller. Break it up and recombine the parts the wrong way, or combine them with elements of something else. Eventually this will trigger the spark of an original idea, and you're off and running.


03. Combine unrelated things or ideas. Force things together that have nothing to do with each other, and see what happens. Are there connections or similarities that you hadn't seen before? If you're lucky, something entirely new and wonderful will come from the fusion. In the 1950s, white Country and Western musicians took the revolutionary step of playing what was, at the time, considered "black" or "race" music (blues and R&B). The result? Rock and Roll!


04. Ask some simple questions. Why? is an especially good question. Why does something work the way it does? Maybe there was a good reason for it at one time, but things change. That reason may no longer be valid.

What if? questions are also great - the more outrageous, the better! What if an elephant could fly? Walt Disney made a pretty good movie from that one. Sometimes there's no way of even knowing what is and isn't outrageous until after the fact: What if the world isn't flat? What if it's really round?


05. Think on paper. Thinking is hard! Give your brain a little help - get a pad of paper and brainstorm, create mind maps, freewrite, or even just doodle aimlessly. These activities enhance the thinking process and stimulate your brain to go where it might not otherwise. Especially if you do most of your work on a computer, try using some real paper and a pencil instead (break the rules, remember?).


06. Ignore the inner voices. Don't be restricted by logic ("that doesn't make sense"), what other people might think ("they'll laugh at me if I do that"), or anything else the voices in your head say to dissuade you (and they will try). Your ideas will need a "reality check", but not while they are being formed. Your mind can create ideas, and it can evaluate ideas, but not at the same time. Create first, evaluate later.


07. Forget what you know. The more you know about something, the harder it can be to come up with new insights about it. Your thinking naturally tends to stay within the realm of what you "know" is possible. But history is full of people who, unaware that something "couldn't be done", actually tried to do it - and succeeded!


08. Solve the right problem. Early in the space program, NASA realized that ink in a pen would not flow properly without gravity, and invested a lot of time and money to create a "space pen". The Russians simply used a pencil.

NASA had asked the wrong question ("How can we get a pen to write in space?"), while Russia had asked the right one ("How can our cosmonauts write in space?"). Do you really understand what it is you're trying to accomplish?


09. Don't despair. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, ideas simply won't come. Rather than bear down and work even harder, ultimately driving yourself into a frenzy, just let it go for a while. Take a break. Go for a walk, or even take a nap. Your subconscious mind will continue working, and will deliver exactly what you need - usually during a "mindless" activity such as showering or shaving, or first thing upon awakening.


10. Don't stop looking after the first idea. The noted scientist Linus Pauling once said, "The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas". You're more likely to find that great idea you need from a list of 50 than you are from a list of only two or three. Even if you get an idea you're sure will work, keep looking for a while longer. There may be an even better one out there, just waiting for you to put it together.

These 10 tips and tricks can help you come up with the ideas you need, and improve the quality of the ideas you get, but only if you actually sit down (or stand on your head) and DO them. As one of history's greatest creative minds has said:

Light bulb clip art from http://www.artclips.com.

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    • Doc Sonic profile image
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      Glen Nunes 3 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks for the holiday wishes, Harishprasad (belated holiday wishes right back at you)! Thanks also for the comments about the hub. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate the support!

    • Harishprasad profile image

      Harish Mamgain 3 years ago from India

      Doc Sonic, how interesting it is to find that guys wander in an endless search of a treasure and here you are standing with keys for everyone to unlock that ! I cannot but just love this very useful and wonderful article. Thank you very much. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, coming along !

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thank you, ithabise. I hope something here is helpful for one of your future creative endeavors.

    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 5 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      SUPERB! This hub features so much depth and discovery. I am definitely bookmarking it! Thanks, Doc Sonic!

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Rebecca, spring boarding is exactly what it is - just a way to get things started. Thanks for the comments.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      These are great tips on getting creative. I "borrow" ideas a lot! I call it spring boarding. The creative person will think of new ideas by looking at others. Great Hub! the little light bulbs add a touch of class.

    • GDRshop profile image

      GDRshop 5 years ago

      inspiration, yes

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks cardelean. Yes, those half-asleep/half-awake moments are a great source of ideas, if you can remember them later on. I know I've had a few that were gone later.

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      This is an AWESOME list. Don't be afraid to "borrow." YES! That's called inspiration! I love number 9 about take a nap, etc. Some of my best ideas come as I am drifting off or just waking from my sleep. It is important to let your mind just rest. Great job. Sharing this one!

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Ah, yes - the voices. Just remember: you don't always have to do what the voices say!

    • alissaroberts profile image

      Alissa Roberts 5 years ago from Normandy, TN

      Love your tips and tricks for ideas. My favorite has to be #6. I must remember to ignore the inner voices! Great job with this hub - voted up and awesome!

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks PWalker281 and Teresa. It's pretty much the approach I've developed for myself over the years. I'm glad if the ideas can help someone else.

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great hub Doc Sonic. I use a lot of them already when writing but you have added more techniques to my list.

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      PWalker281 5 years ago

      What a great hub on generating ideas!! Very well written and informative. I'm going to bookmark it so that I can reference it when I need ideas for hubs. Voted up and (very) useful!

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks clevercat, that's pretty high praise! I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      I love this Hub! I think it's my favorite of all the ones I've read since I started here. Thanks, Doc! Voted up and useful.