Writing everyday challenges you to come up with new ideas. When you write everyday you come to the realization that ideas are limitless. I used to struggle with creativity. New ideas felt elusive. About a year or so ago a colleague recommended a book to me. That book changed the way I approached creativity and idea generation.
The Creativity Myth
There’s a surprising secret to creativity. One that may come as a relief to you. You don’t need to invent anything new. Creativity and new ideas don’t come from inventing. They come from combining.
Here’s what I mean.
Every so often I read the classic idea book, A Technique For Producing Ideas by James Webb Young. At seventy-five years old, the book still holds relevance. I wouldn’t even call it a book, it’s more like a pamphlet.
In this classic, he details a five step process for coming up with new ideas.
- Gather raw materials — a combination of: knowledge of the immediate problem and your general store of knowledge
- Working over the material in your mind
- Incubating stage — forget about the problem and let your subconscious does the work
- Birth of the idea
- Shaping and developing the idea
For large problems I like to go through all five stages. For daily writing I find that the first stage drives the biggest results. Combining knowledge of the immediate subject with your general store of knowledge.
What this means is that you combine two existing pieces of information to create one unique piece of information. That’s the secret.
A recent article I wrote here on medium is an example. The article, Thomas Jefferson’s 240 Year Old Persuasion Insight combined my knowledge of written persuasion with something Thomas Jefferson wrote two-hundred-forty years ago. The article runs just over five-hundred words. If I wanted to develop it further I could create something more substantial.
How I Put Creativity Into Action
I had this topic I wanted to write about. I like to include some type of story in my articles. The world sees enough “how to” or list of things articles. I desired something more interesting. I could have told a story about how I experienced it in my own life. Nothing came to mind when I sat down to write so I decided to get creative.
Then it hit me. I remembered reading something on the Declaration of Independence a few days earlier and I saw the connection. I combined the persuasion lesson with the Declaration of Independence knowledge. As a result, I created something new. Two different subjects combined, producing something unique.
Once I formed the idea in my mind, I shaped it (step five) into something consumable for the reader. This article barely topped five hundred words. With additional shaping and developing I could have added more layers.
I’m always on the lookout for experiences, news items, peculiar events that I can combine with real lessons. That alone gives me an endless stream of ideas.
A quick, simple, endless formula if you struggle with generating unique ideas. If you wish to improve your idea creation skills I highly recommend this book. The language is a bit dated but the ideas are sound.
Don’t want to get the book? Look at my five-step summary above. Start practicing and see what you come up with.