January 29

How do great ideas get started?

By James Costello

Have you ever noticed a great idea on TV or in a magazine and wondered, “why didn’t I think of that!?!”empty mousetrap

Where do these great ideas, innovations and inventions come from? How do great ideas get started? Who are these mavericks of genius?

Ralph Waldo Emerson quipped “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to you door.”  Strangely enough, we are still using essentially the same mousetrap Emerson used. Part of what has kept the mousetrap unchanged all this time is that it is simple to manufacture, easy to use and relatively inexpensive to acquire. To quote a common colloquialism, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”  Yet, somewhere out there, someone with a vision will build “a better mousetrap.” When it is unveiled, we will marvel at how we survived without it.

Let yet another good idea or novel approach pass you by. More than tired clichés, it is time for bold action. Here are some proven ways to generate ideas from a few brilliant minds:

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein said, “You cannot solve the problems of today with the same level of thinking that created them.” He also said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  The concepts are the same. A person has to move outside their comfort zone to create new ideas or reach new solutions to old problems.

Thomas Watson

The next quote is a particular favorite:  “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” Thomas Watson, founder of IBM. It is about momentum. In order to succeed you have to take action and some of that action is going to be unsuccessful. Failure is a great learning tool. Failure becomes insanity, as we learned above, if you never break old patterns.

Lisa Costello

“Every new invention or idea comes out of desire, necessity and a great attitude.” Lisa Costello (I’m smart enough to have married someone with great insight) Desire, necessity and attitude come together to sustain momentum. You might have a great idea but without a vision and a desire to see it realized you will never get your idea off the ground. Without a great attitude, you tend to give to much credence to naysayers and you may quit right before your big breakthrough!

Three Steps to Make a difference

To make the change, move beyond your comfort zone and old patterns, continue to fail, and develop a vision and attitude that will sustain you. Let’s move into some techniques to stimulate ideas. This is not for the casual day dreamer but truly for those who wish to embrace their inner “maverick genius.” 

1.            Change your location – if you spend all of your day sitting in an office, or you do all your thinking sitting on your couch, get a change of scenery 

            a.            Stand up and walk around for a few minutes

            b.            If you sit on your couch all night, go sit at the kitchen table for a while.

            c.            Take a napkin meeting – go have lunch with someone and jot notes about what you are thinking about on a napkin.

Hey, it worked for Bob Metcalf when he came up with the idea that would become Ethernet back in 1973. Although I do suspect his being in Hawaii at the time may also have had something to do with it, but again a change of scenery.

2.            Talk with other people you haven’t talked to about this before. Even the dullard in the next cubicle may have a flash of brilliance now and again! The point is to think outside your immediate circle of family and friends…because quite frankly these people have been humoring you all along! Talk to the postman, video store guy or your cousin Louie who just got out of rehab. 

3.            Brain dump. This is an exercise that works well in collaborative efforts but also when you are by yourself.

            a.            Grab you favorite recording medium – pen and paper, laptop, cassette tape

            b.            Put out as many ideas as you have as quickly as you can

            c.            Don’t censor yourself – the more you dump out, the better than chance you will give yourself the answer. This about the ideas, not the feasibility.

            d.            Keep a positive attitude.

Now go out, get talking and get thinking. How do you create and capture great ideas?


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