A friend of mine said, “I wish I had time to sit and think like you do.” I was puzzled and asked, “What do you mean?”
“You’re always generating so many ideas,” he replied. “I just don’t have the time to think and create like you do.”
I was a little dumbfounded by the comment. Did my friend, Rob, think I sat around all day contemplating the world of business? Immediately the image of me sitting in a leather chair wearing a smoking jacket deep in thought came to mind.
That image of creativity couldn’t be further from reality. Creating brilliant, actionable ideas isn’t something that happens in isolation. You create the best ideas when you are working to solve problems.
It frustrates me when people talk about creativity as something outside of themselves. There’s no muse or higher-being passing genius through you. Creating brilliant ideas is a process. You work, push, and chip away at your ideas, and mold them into something you can use and share.
Over the years I have honed my process of ideation into 3 habits:
Consume: Feed Your Brain
Knowledge and experiences are the fuel that powers your creativity.
Consuming content and experiences is a primary source of ideas. Feed your brain with a diverse diet from a variety of sources. Don’t typecast yourself to one topic or opinion. Consume deeply and broadly, because it will give you the fuel you need to drive the creative process.
Connect: Apply Your Expertise
Talk, brainstorm and share your expertise freely with others. You will find the seeds of an idea when you apply your knowledge to solve problems.
An idea is sparked when you connect seemingly unrelated information to find solutions to a problem. These collisions are the starting point of ideation. But it also takes effort. You need to brainstorm, discuss, and work with others to help these seemingly unrelated pieces of information come together and form something new.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Create: Prototype Your Ideas
Creativity is the act of creating, and this is where you grow your ideas.
Think of the creating step as prototyping your ideas. This is where you test to see if your concepts work, and how they might be realized.
I use writing extensively in my creative process. I grow my ideas by writing articles, speeches, books, and working with my clients. By writing it down I am forced to convert an intangible concept that is stuck in my head into something that someone can use.
The Virtuous Circle
The 3C’s are a virtuous cycle. If I stop doing any step in the process my system shuts down, and I suffer from creative constipation.
How you apply the 3C’s will be unique to you and your style, but the steps are roughly the same for everyone:
- Consume new knowledge and experiences regularly.
- Connect your expertise to solve problems.
- Create and prototype your ideas and prove they work.