First of all it’s impossible to say exactly where great ideas come from. It’s really an ongoing exploration and question explored on the Creative Habits Podcast. There is no real answer however there are a series of ideas that help get you closer to your own practice of innovation. The core question is,

What regular things can you do to get great ideas?

Let’s face it everyone would love great ideas all the time. Having a great idea fuels the creation of just about everything in the world. This page offers a small way to start looking at getting great ideas. Let’s begin.

So what’s it take to have great ideas? According to Steven Johnson who wrote Where Good Ideas Come From,

Our thought shapes the spaces we inhabit, and our spaces return the favor. The argument of this book is that a series of shared properties and patterns recur again and again in unusually fertile environments. I have distilled them down into seven patterns, each one occupying a separate chapter. The more we embrace these patterns— in our private work habits and hobbies, in our office environments, in the design of new software tools— the better we will be at tapping our extraordinary capacity for innovative thinking.

Fertile environments both inside and outside the mind help to shape good ideas. Basically what you think, where you live and who you interact with everyday helps to shape the ideas that come and go inside your head.

Yes, it’s not revolutionary but neither are habits and yet for the most part people aren’t intentional about their thoughts, environment, or habits. In fact, for the most part a lot of where people live and who they meet is mostly by chance not to mention the thoughts racing through the mind from when we wake up to when we go to sleep.

In order to have those great ideas then we need to play with the different influences; our environment, the people we interact with, and the thoughts inside our head. According to Steven,

The trick is to figure out ways to explore the edges of possibility that surround you. This can be as simple as changing the physical environment you work in, or cultivating a specific kind of social network, or maintaining certain habits in the way you seek out and store information.

How can we find ways to “explore the edges of possibility?” Here are some ideas based on each area.

The Environment

Initially you might think of your environment as immutable yet when you look at smaller elements within your environment the possibilities become endless. Instead of thinking ok I have to live in NY or San Fran or some other innovative city, think how could I change the room I work in or even my desk?

It’s a lot about what you see and where you go throughout your day. Look at the elements you can control and start making some changes. Think about the patterns of thought with visual cues.

For example, if you take a current project and you remind yourself of the elements that’s great but take it one step further and bring back that rock you found on a walk or something else that caught your interest but you don’t know why. Place it somewhere around you. That may end up sparking your mind in ways you have no way of knowing until it happens.

The Social Network

Social circles or networks are a harder element to conquer. The rewards are great. Think of experiments like the building xxxx at xxxx. They were going to tear the building down but before they did they let who ever they wanted use it. Anyone that came in felt free to modify the rooms and structure because it was all going to be torn down.

There was the added benefit of many different groups of study. Normally these groups wouldn’t interact much but being in the same building they ended up in different conversations. Some of these led to innovative things like asdfsad and adsfasdf.

Take that same idea and find some people well outside your normal work experience. Hang out and try to find a few things in common. Over time you might find elements that spark ideas you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Habits in Seeking and Storing Information

What do you do with ideas you have? A lot of them are probably gathering dust on a hard drive. You jot them down maybe but how much do you intentionally review them? Reviewing information is just as important as finding it. Making a habit of looking over new and old ideas can yield connections you might not otherwise get.

One of the best ways to do this is through different programs like Evernote. Evernote is easier because you can use it across devices. There are tons of ways to organize and share information with others. A lot of people yawn and say oh Evernote right, I have that but don’t actually use it effectively. When you use it effectively you are capturing/organizing, reviewing, and expanding information you have everyday.

Most users might capture and organize the information but fail to review and expand. Reviewing ideas is one of the more critical parts. When it’s captured an idea is held somewhere safe yet because it’s held the mind let’s the idea go. Since we are so distracted by everything around us it’s easy to forget. That’s why someone might sign up for a cool free ebook, download it and never read it. They have it and will read it when they have free time but the free time never comes.

Review what you get and expand, write about it, turn it over and really get into it. When you read there is just a glossing over of ideas. When you grok something you spend time with it, turn it over and really consider what it means. There is a balance between the two where you don’t just read something but understand it deeply.

The Creative Matrix

The Creative Matrix is a system to help capture, review and expand ideas. Want to have more great ideas? Then play with what you know and discover. The best way to do that is through a system where you are consistently capturing, reviewing, and expanding what you discover and know already. Instead of just downloading a free PDF or reading a cool article or book, what if you had a system that took those ideas and put them in front of you to use everyday? The Creative Matrix is that system and it’s simple using pretty much what you already have on hand. Sign up here:

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It’s free and there are regular posts for helping create online content that you won’t see except when you subscribe.