“Having ideas is not as important as developing them. And one of the things that I’ve experienced is ideas need air and they need time….[T]he great ideas…start as a small idea and then the art is letting them live, and continue to develop them and get them into a big idea.”
—Former Ogilvy chair Shelly Lazarus on NPR’s Morning Edition
[I find as I think about finding and creating ideas—great ideas—that sometimes very simple elements or ways of framing this process bubble to the surface. I'll try and post them when I can, so that you can get a glimpse of how it's going for me and perhaps see a new approach to something that has been difficult in the past.]
Creatives, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, marketers. We are not the ones who typically have problems coming up with great ideas. We have trouble with time management and how to possibly bring all of our ideas to life.
Say it with me: “I need more time!”
When we fret about time, I think we’re setting up our expectations to crash. I think we’re possibly hurrying along all our ideas too quickly, forcing them to become something sooner than they are ready, watching to see what bursts out, hoping it will be epic, stressed out because we need to be able to USE our great ideas yesterday already.
I think we need to give ideas the time they demand. I think we need to give our small little ideas (future great ideas) the air they must have to become something bigger and better later.
I don’t think we get to control this process. I don’t think we can allow others to attempt to control this process.
I think there are three factors desperately needed to get great ideas:
1. A ritual for recording all ideas.
Use your journal, Julia Cameron’s acclaimed “morning pages,” index cards, a blank notebook, iPhone recorder app, white board, mind mapping software, Pinterest (I recommend!), clippings file, tickler file (31 folders where you store your ideas), or a pile of treasures—a feather, a rock, an unusual-colored leaf.
Try a lot of different options. But create a storage system so you can go back and find those great idea brainstorms later.
2. A process for letting those future great ideas “take the air,” if you catch my drift.
Don’t leave all of your “idea gatherings” stuffed into a file drawer (this is what you can use that tickler file or Pinterest for!) or buried in a pile of notes. Air them out. Bring them to the light. Put your future great ideas from a few months ago into a different room so you’re in a different frame of mind as you sort through them.
I tend to read my pile of monthly magazines on the floor, with a pair of scissors handy, and my file box at the ready. (I still pull images that inspire me, even in the age of Pinterest!) I find that sitting on the floor takes me back to high school when I would pour over teen fashion magazines for inspiration (not that I successfully executed much of that inspiration, ahem!). It makes me feel less rigid, more open to receiving inspiration.
3. Try to find connections in your fledgling ideas by trusting that they will appear.
Not abstract ideas, but obvious, upside down, or backward connections between two very different ideas. And then sit and think about those connections for a time until more connections (this is when the abstract stuff begins to show up!) are made. Discard as necessary. This is when the big mood boards are helpful. This is when you find yourself sketching out past the present into five-year plans. This is when your brain neurons begin to fire rapidly until there are explosions of color and insight and you begin to think all of this is possible and that your little idea is actually going to become a truly great idea. Until you doubt and come crashing back down. (Don’t worry; we all do that.)
Above all, you have to believe the connections will come and that they will pay off. Not in that hocus pocus way of “I must be quiet enough to hear” but more about how you feel as the possible ideas flood and float through. How do these connections make you feel? What did those explosions of color and insight do to your awareness of all the possibilities? And, just as important, what were you feeling when all the self-doubt showed up?
Getting great ideas is a ritual. It’s a process. Sometimes those early ideas are developed enough to be the great idea you need. Sometimes you’ll have to continue to work.
I think a revolution requires breakthrough, a tossing off of the status quo, a daring to find a connection you haven’t found before, a resilience to push past your feelings of self-doubt and to go forward anyway.