A Simple Technique To Generate Unlimited Ideas
Three questions lead to infinite creativity
How many random thoughts zip through your mind each day? Do you record any of them? Most people don’t. I try to but I only retain a fraction of them. Each one is a goldmine of potential creative output. You may not realize it, but you overlook hundreds of creative sparks each day. That’s not an exaggeration and you’ll discover why.
There are many misconceptions about creativity; complexity and difficulty are the most egregious.
Creativity thrives on simplicity. If it requires a three-hundred-page book to explain, it’s too complex.
This example shows how it works.
Yesterday afternoon, a reminder popped up on my calendar. Measure the kids’ height. Parents have been doing this for generations. Your kids stand against a designated wall. You etch their height and note the date.
I rushed the kids upstairs and asked who wanted to go first. Both kids refused. My younger one erupted in tears as though I was asking him to run through a bed of hot coals. I was frustrated by their refusal and told them “I do not understand your generation.”
I pulled out my phone and jotted down a few words so I’d remember the encounter — “measuring kids’ height; refusal; don’t understand their generation.”
From those words, I could create a story about generational differences, sadness over the loss of traditional rituals, or my parental deficiencies.
Create Dozens Of Ideas From One Thought
How did I get from that one-liner to multiple story ideas? There are three questions I ask myself which generate an almost unlimited number of possibilities. You can run each thought nugget or experience through each question and create dozens of ideas.
Question 1 — What is this an example of?
I look at each thought or experience as a piece of something more significant. We tend to consider our thoughts and experiences in isolation. By thinking of it as an example of something bigger, you draw connections you never knew existed or have long since forgotten. When you look at it as a component of something bigger, you open your mind up to other pieces of the big picture.
Here is an example.
A few days ago, a random memory emerged into my consciousness. It was my favorite college course, The History of Rock N Roll. I had expected to breeze through the course, but a new professor transformed it. What was this experience an example of? The answer came quickly: reinvention. I then thought about other examples of reinvention. It triggered a memory of reinventing my career several years later. You can read that story here.
Question 2 — What lesson does this teach or prove to me about [life, love, parenting, work, fill in the blank]?
There is a lesson in everything. You learn something about every experience and every thought. Sometimes you learn something new. Other times you disprove something you believed. You may even confirm something you already thought. There is value in all those learnings. There is also value in sharing those lessons with others.
When my kids refused my request to measure their height, it proved that there is a real generational difference between us. It was also another painful lesson in parenting; I don’t understand my kids as much as I’d like to believe.
Question 3 — How does this fit into one of the twenty-five core emotions and desires? What can you learn from it?
I had started my writing career in copywriting. I developed a list of twenty-five core emotions and desires that generate tension. The process of connecting an experience or thought to a feeling or desire spawns ideas and concepts.
*I’ve listed these twenty-five core desires and emotions at the end for your reference.
Here is an example
A few days ago, I went to the diner for lunch. Our server had a noticeable dandruff issue. I was slightly grossed out, but I refrained from saying anything. Instead, I deflected the issue.
“Oh, there’s an open seat at the counter. I’ll sit there.”
Let’s run that experience through the list of core emotions. Several come to mind, but a few stand out: relief from embarrassment, control of the world around me, safety, anger at a perceived injustice. I was angered at the lack of sanitary measures and resented this stranger for putting me in an awkward position. The takeaway is obvious. We find creative ways to avoid uncomfortable situations.
It’s Easier Than You Think
If you attune yourself to noticing your thoughts and paying attention to your experiences, you will have no shortage of material from which to generate your ideas. Here is a list of thoughts and experiences, and the resulting ideas I gathered during my lunch break today.
- Thought: My favorite preparer is working the counter today. He prepares everything the way I like it.
Idea: Importance of a routine and familiarity.
- Experience: Doesn’t anyone know how to hardboil an egg? (After digging into my salad).
Idea: Why you should take pride in your ability to boil an egg.
- Thought: Already at 6,000 steps before 1 PM.
Idea: The 10,000 steps mania. Obsession or Lifestyle?
- Thought: Should I take the stairs or elevator? Ugh. I don’t want to be in an elevator with that pain in the ass.
Idea: Exploiting natural desire to avoid pain and influence on behavior.
- Experience: My Audible app keeps freezing since my last IOS upgrade. Idea: Another chink in the armor of Apple.
Awareness, Observation, Recording
The point of this exercise is not to spend twenty-four hours recording every single thought or experience. That’s absurd. The idea is to maintain awareness throughout your day and jot down anything funny, interesting, out of the ordinary, annoying, joyful or painful.
You can see from my examples, the possibilities to generate new ideas, concepts and stories from fundamental interactions are almost unlimited. By asking yourself the three questions multiple times a day, you develop the ability to draw out existing connections, make new connections and forge new theories and concepts.
Here is a list of the twenty-five core desires and emotions I mentioned earlier:
- Desire social conformity (majority); nonconformity (minority)
- Psychological reactance
- Acquire or hold onto what’s scarce
- HPD (hope, pride in your group, distrust of outside groups)
- Relief from guilt
- Relief/avoidance from pain
- Relief of responsibility for failure
- Recognition of excellence in skills and traits important to them
- Maintaining status relative to peers
- Distrust of establishment
- Emotional gratification (a trusted figure articulates your inner thoughts)
- Address an indignity
- Connection (friendship, love, lust)
- Stoke fantasies
- Protection from loss
- Elimination of an embarrassment
- Anger at a perceived injustice
- Financial freedom