New Ideas — where do they come from?

New ideas come from unexpected places

There you are, staring at a blank piece of paper, thinking that you are stuck, wondering if you have run out of new ideas. And then somebody walks into your office and distracts you from the tyranny of the blank page. You mention your quandary, they say they haven’t got a clue but, last night, afterwork, there was a badger in the parking lot and then an old man dressed as napoleon was playing accordion on the train. That wasn’t what they really said, but you missed most of it anyway, because you checked out when they said “parking lot”. Something clicked and DING! a new idea popped into your head. Where did it come from?

I was reading a recent article from the MIT Technology Review, on a paper written in 1959 by Isaac Asimov, titled “How do people get new ideas?” It remained unpublished until recently. Here were some of Mr. Asimov’s thoughts on how to increase the number of new ideas.

Work in groups

He refers to them as “cerebrations”. The purpose of which is not to influence or inhibit the thinking of each member but to share “in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.”

Keep groups small

No more than 5 persons is ideal. Even though working with larger groups might produce more ideas it also follows that if there are too many people waiting to talk it gets frustrating so people stop paying attention. So if there are 20 people who need to share information, the members of the groups should rotate so that, over multiple meetings, all members will eventually have time to share ideas. This flies in the face of efficiency, but creativity and efficiency rarely go hand-in-hand.

Keep the tone informal

And resist giving undue preference to higher ranking members. It will only inhibit ideas.

Don’t feel guilty or responsible

Ideas come when they come. “To feel guilty because one has not earned one’s salary because one has not had a great idea is the surest way, it seems to me, of making it certain that no great idea will come in the next time either.”

Start a cerebration of your own

The next time you need to come up with new ideas whether it’s for creative, marketing, merchandising or e-commerce. Don’t go it alone. Gather a small group and start sharing facts, fact-combinations and vagrant thoughts.

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Sarah Fletcher
President/Creative Director Catalog Design Studios Inc.
Co-Founder Catalog University