Ideas are funny things. I can’t decide if they’re worthless or priceless. You pull them out of the air like they’re free, and they kind of are, unless someone else already had the idea and laid claim to it.
Almost all of them are bad. Embarrassingly bad.
But then there are the good ones. The ones that change people’s lives.
But how do we come up with them?
We hold up the concept of eureka and just figure we’ll hang out until a good idea comes along and it will be so good we’ll run through the village naked.
Or we think of Ben Franklin and his lightning bolt and figure we’ll just hang out til lightening strikes us, too. It never does.
Instead of hanging out and waiting, a better strategy might be to come up with a bunch of bad ideas. Just keep coming up with them. Cranking them out like clockwork.
Claudia Azula Altucher has a great book called Becoming an Idea Machine. She suggests making the habit of writing down 10 ideas a day. Her husband James is one of my favorite bloggers and he also talks about this repeatedly, saying things like “ideas are the currency of the 21st century” and “you have to develop your idea muscle”. I’m not sure about that first line – it seems like it would be right but I haven’t really lived it. But I know from experience that the second is definitely true.
In my experience of writing songs, the regular practice of coming up with creative ideas does two things:
1) You get better at coming up with ideas through regular practice – I really think there’s something to this “idea muscle” thing. In my case, working every day helps avoid that dreaded blank screen and gives me something to work on. More importantly, the ideas that I come up with seem to improve with practice.
2) That eureka or lightning bolt still happens, but it is accompanied by a lot of hard work – I might work for four hours on a song that I like OK but feels like it’s not going anywhere. Then later that day when I’m driving around, I’ll just randomly get the idea that makes it all come together. Or, even better, I’ll be doing something else and not even thinking about it, and I’ll get an idea for a better song. But this doesn’t happen if I’m not working.
Yes, I’m using songwriting as an example, because that’s what I know. But I really think this idea generation thing can apply to any realm. Try coming up with 10 ideas a day. After a few months, you will get better, and who knows – it might turn your whole life around.
Try it – write down 10 ideas. Make sure you do 10. It can be a practical list like blog ideas or meal plans, or something off the wall like 10 ways NASA could get to the moon. Just make sure they’re about the same topic.