Everyone Has Ideas
“Everyone who's ever taken a shower has an idea. But it's the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.” (Nolan Bushnell)
We all have ideas. Especially when we’re having a shower or walking the dog. But only a few people turn their ideas into reality.
So how do we give birth to an idea and bring it to life? And how do you determine a good idea from an average one?
As Goethe said,
“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one's thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.”
So here’s a 5 step process I use all the time. It never fails to produce great results. These 5 steps are really easy to follow and will help you develop your idea and bring it to life.
Whether the idea you need to uncover is for a new business, a brand, a new product, your PhD topic, or a new film, the process is the same.
This process is loosely based on the four stages of creative cognition by Hermann von Helmholtz.
Stage 1: Preparation
This is the research phase where you intentionally gather all the information. Find the key facts, the problems you are trying to solve, gather the data and create an information base.
Using this information base, have your first brainstorm.
Grab a large piece of paper with no lines (or whiteboard), and go for it. There are no rules here, no wrong ideas. Simply get all your ideas out on paper. Sometimes it’s helpful to include others, sometimes it’s best done on your own. You choose. I do both.
It can also be helpful to introduce restrictions and boundaries to your brainstorming. This can encourage greater creativity. Restrictions push us to think with more focus by placing a frame around our ideas. That frame can be a limited time-frame (you have to come up with the idea by the end of the day), a physically limited space within which our idea will be communicated (you have just three words to describe your idea), or by choosing just one problem for one niche target group (how can we help butchers improve their social media?).
When you think you have enough information move on to stage 2.
Stage 2: Incubation
This is the hardest part. Do nothing. No really, just stop thinking about it.
Let the information and ideas incubate. Cease to focus consciously and allow your unconscious mind take over. Go do something else.
The key function of the unconscious mind during this period is connecting ideas.
So how do you know when to move to this stage?
Basically when you become distracted, irritated and bored. This is usually your mind telling you to take a break and let incubation begin.
This phase can take an hour, a day, a week, a month. How long it takes can be anyone’s guess. Sometimes in my experience this stage has literally lasted 3 minutes. In those instances, I stopped what I was doing, made a cup of tea and clarity came to me in an instant. Other times weeks have gone by and nothing.
What you will know however, is when this phase ends, as it always ends with a bang. A bolt of inspiration seemingly out of nowhere. Bing, the idea is ready to take out of the oven.
Note: If this phase goes on for too long and you feel nothing is incubating it’s a pretty good sign that you need to go back to stage 1 and build your information base. Only you can be the judge when you need to revisit stage 1.
Stage 3: Illumination & Documentation
Ok so you have arrived at the “aha” lightbulb moment of inspiration. The idea has matured as your unconscious mind did what only it can only do. Bake ideas.
You arrive at this stage when the new idea or solution passes from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind. This is the time to write like crazy documenting your new idea.
Be prepared as it often hits you while doing something totally unrelated—like taking a shower. This is why I bought a set of waterproof markers, so I can document my idea immediately.
Once you have documented your idea, move to stage 4.
Stage 4: Implementation & Verification
This is the phase where your new idea takes form and you begin the testing process to see if it works.
If it’s a new business or product, this is when you write the business plan. This is when you ask if you have the skills and resources needed to make it work.
This is the time to consult experts, do market research, get feedback from friends, and put your idea to the test.
Scary, but essential!
When you have tested, and reworked, and tested, and reworked, and tested, you are ready to move to the final stage.
Stage 5: Release into The Wild
Congratulations, your idea is ready for the world.
Release it into the wild and celebrate that you have birthed something new.
And if I had to add in a step after this, I would suggest monitoring to see how your idea is being received by the world and gathering data to improve it, upgrade and release again.
What’s your process? How do you generate ideas and bring them into the world?
I hope you’ve found this process as helpful as I have. Let me know how you go, and if you’d like any help.