There are no bad ideas.
Okay, I stole that line from a favorite TV show, and it goes like this…
There are no bad ideas Lemon, only great ideas that go horribly wrong…
— Jack Donaghy, ’30 Rock’
Ideas are little sparks. Miss them and they are vapor. Catch them. Fan them. They turn into flames. Of course, like the soap quote above, bad ideas can burn. But why be so pessimistic. We have seen that ideas are basic to any creative process, and when you are brainstorming alone or in a team, all ideas are welcome. Think of this as a sequel to the earlier linked article. If you too have a wheel stuck in the mud, here’s how you can dig a path with creative ideas.
Not every idea is going to be a great idea. Even then, here are some ways to consciously come up with them.
Become A Trend-Watcher
The evolution towards Web 4.0 gives ideas about our future.
Trends are not always fads. Trends are weathervanes, and with the Web, it’s less difficult to predict the elements. You could be an artist. You might be a weekend gardener. You could be a writer like me. Think of a project and you can be sure that the pervasiveness of the Web has touched it.
Think of something niche like wedding photography. A simple Google Search will reveal blogs, social media discussions, Pinterest boards, photo projects etc. that should provide enough idea triggers. Alternatively, you can take the help of different trend capturing tools.
If you are a blogger like me, a simple search hints that writing for mobiles is an upward trend. Video blogging or vBlogging is shaping up for the screens. Image centric information consumption is on the rise.
What’s your passion project? Watch the trends.
Find A Problem (Or A Frustration)
An unsolved problem is an idea.
The oldest advice to entrepreneurs. It holds good for everyone who wants to come up with creative solutions. Actively go looking for problems and frustrated users. As writers, we often fall back on MakeUseOf’s Answers section to see what problems our readers are puzzling over. The problem and its solution is a free idea for an article.
Where do you go looking for problems, if it doesn’t come to you? Make “problem” your favorite keyword and go hunting. For instance, I often use a Q&A site like Quora to explore the questions people are asking, and then turn them into story ideas for our website here. Other question-answer sites and discussion boards are fertile grounds for problem hunting.
Many inventions and innovations come from creative problem solving. A basic rule is to re-describe or re-frame the problem. It’s a whole field in itself, and you can get a start with it on this Wikipedia page.
Look In The Unlikeliest Of Places
Nike’s iconic “Just do it” slogan came from the last words of a murderer.
Television came to be because Philo Farnsworth was inspired by the back-and-forth motion used to plow a field to develop the image scanning process used by TVs. Creativity is the ability to connect chalk with cheese.
Looking into unlikely sources for ideas is all about breaking stiff routines and “cross-pollinating” from different places. As a technology writer, I look into magazines and websites that talk about lifestyle, pop-culture, and even advertising. If you are a fiction writer, trawl through Facebook – there are little dramas being played out as people open up their lives.
Hunting for a job? Take inspiration from Google Search. Okay, forget that. Eric Gandhi has already done it with a resume that mimics Google’s search page. He got Google’s attention.
Trail Doers Who Are Where You Want To Be
This photography project uses just sand and gravity. Why didn’t anyone think of this before!
Thankfully, the world is full of creatives. The creative species cannot survive without showing off their work. Sometimes, following the unknown creatives can be better than cyber-tailing their more known brethren. Social sites like Behance and Deviant Art help you become a voyeur of some of the best work that falls under the radar. Both cover a wide range of creative fields from architecture to web-design. There are always projects you can mimic and open yourself to new learning.
A massive crowdsourced literary project that needed thousands of volunteers working for free. Sounds familiar?
No, this one came much before Wikipedia. The Oxford English Dictionary took shape with English words on slips of paper contributed by strangers. This was arguably, the biggest crowdsourced project of its day. (Source: Wired UK)
With crowdsourcing, it’s not always about money. Crowdsourcing can be used to tap into the wisdom of the crowds too, and it is being done on a fairly regular basis by big brands like Unilever, , General Electric, BMW, and not to mention tech biggies like IBM, Microsoft, and Google as we saw in this article on big ideas and big brands. You can borrow a feather from the biggies and take your questions to your social circles or on to specialized ideation sites like:
You can also use Q&A sites like Quora and Stack Exchange to sniff around. However, if your idea is gold, then it might not be wise to announce it to the world on such public forums.
Use Idea Boosting Technology
We writers have it easy. From writing prompts to creative answers to creative blocks, we have the online tools to fall back on. If you are not a writer, don’t worry – you too have the basic toolset to boost your ideas with a hand from technology. It’s your smartphone camera, a note-taking app, and your own brain. Use these to record ideas when they come.
If you are looking for more tools to experiment with, try StumbleUpon. Choose your topic of interest and hit the Stumble button to get a random article after another. Fish in the variety and hook some ideas. If you are in visual arts, you can go on a spree with the slick Compfight or Flickr Storm through the coffers of Flickr. From finding a domain name to writing fan-fiction, there are online tools and even mobile apps (like the Idea Generator on iOS — screenshot above) which give some help. But the final push towards the ideas has to come from you.
Where Do Your Creative Ideas Come From?
In this remarkable talk, Steven Johnson examines the question. He has also written a read worthy book on the subject. He ties it all to a coffee shop.
Can creativity be taught or learnt…or is it more fundamental? I don’t have an answer to that. I do know that stepping outside the box isn’t hard. A few degrees of effort, and we could add a new dimension to our thinking skills. New ideas created the Renaissance and a new world. With the right creative ideas, you don’t need three centuries to create a renaissance in your own little world.
Has any creative idea changed your life or work? What tips would you suggest to light the idea bulb in all of us?