How to Come Up with that Really Great Idea

Why is it that when we hunker down to come up with a new idea, our minds suddenly empty of any interesting thought? As writers or artists, our basic job description is the come up with new and interesting things. It’s the definition of creativity. But how to come up with that really great idea? Sometimes, you have to trick your brain in to being creative.

The Mollusk with No Brain

The sea squirt is a type of mollusk that starts life as a free-swimming larvae. It possesses a simple brain to coordinate movement. But it’s on a mission. The sea squirt seeks out a place to anchor and live the rest of its life. Once it finds a suitable spot, it does something incredible — it eats its own brain. Why? Because it no longer needs it.

This is a great lesson on why organisms (including ourselves) need brains. The sea squirt needed to make important decisions about where to live out the rest of its life. After that, complex thinking is no longer required. It lives the rest of its life filtering water through its body, and extracting nutrients.

We need our brains to sort through the clutter of life and latch onto the important ideas. 

Let Sleeping Ideas Lie

If you’ve ever lost someone in a public place, you know the frustration of trying to hunt them down. As you move about to locate the missing person, they too are wandering around looking for you. If you just stopped and staying in one spot, then they could find you.

Ideas are out there, searching for you. Creativity seems the easiest when your mind is distracted with something else. In other words, the less you try to come up with a new idea, the more likely one will find you. 

Often ideas need to incubate, lingering in the back corners of your mind. It might take months or even years before they’re ready. 

Start with the Very Worst

Usually it’s not just any idea we want, but a good one. An idea that will wow the socks of potential readers or viewers. But that’s being awfully judgmental. You’re shutting off potential ideas before they can even bubble to the surface. 

Instead, why not think of the worst possible idea. One that really stinks. Look at the problem the way a novice would. How would a beginning writer tackle this story? Or how would a rookie artist draw this?

This is a process called “wrong thinking” or “reverse thinking.” Instead of focusing on finding solutions, you try to come up with ways to make the problem worse. The goal is to make a list of ideas that are truly awful.

Now, take that list and consider the exact opposite of those bad ideas. This activates a different area of your brain. Instead of creating an idea whole cloth, you have a starting point. By looking at a problem in a different way, you can uncover assumptions and biases that may have been overlooked. This can help you find new approaches to the problem that might not have been considered otherwise.

Sometimes the best way to discover that really great idea is to avoid it all together. But looking in different areas, you can free your brain up to do what it wants to do…create. 

Tim Kane

Monthly Mental Kitchen

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