When you want to have new ideas: 12 things to do to get started

At the beginning of a new year, your slate can be blank to fill in with your goals, things you want to stop, start, accelerate, and slow down. This is also a time to generate new ideas, look at familiar problems from a new lens and find new ways to make an impact.

Lots of people say they have their best ideas in the shower. I am not sure where this came from. I have never had an idea in the shower except to not forget to condition my hair. However, the point about finding good ideas while doing mundane things is true. If our hands are doing something fairly rote, then our minds are free to wander and explore.

I baked a lot this past December and while I folded in the sifted flour, I had some interesting thoughts about what I could do differently this year. Unfortunately, when I find myself unable to fall back asleep at 3 am, I can have the ultimate brainwave. Why is that? I find this annoying but I also find I can’t stop it from happening. Our brains decide to start working when we wake up, which is why I can’t fall back asleep in the first place.

Ideas can come in the most unusual circumstances. Funny how they don’t always come when we have the time to think about them. They can be elusive. We can get stuck in certain circumstances and find it difficult to see new ways or how to overcome obstacles. So, how do we get unstuck? How is it possible to leave past baggage in the past and look at something familiar with new eyes?

According to Brain Science, several parts of our brain need to be stimulated for new ideas to form. We have always thought about being left-brained (and more logical) or right-brained (more creative). But, the truth is that many parts need to be sparking at the same time for us to have new ideas.

In order to engage the brain, we may need to do different things to get to a “new” place. Here are my tips for finding new ideas and new ways to approach work.

  1. Don’t think too hard about it. This may seem counterintuitive but I find innovating or having new ideas is a lot like trying to get back to sleep. If you chase it too much, think about it too much, it won’t happen. If you sit down with your notebook and force new ideas to come, it may not happen. Let your ideas come and go until something clicks. Giving yourself a timeline may work against you here as creativity and finding new ideas may take time.
  2. Carve time to brainstorm. Sometimes I can have new ideas all by my lonesome but, oftentimes, I have ideas while I am brainstorming with others. Free-form brainstorming where all ideas are welcomed is a good way to come up with something new. There are many tricks and formulas to brainstorming. If you search the internet for the keyword “brainstorming”, you will get inundated with ways to do this. Pick the best one for you. One of the simplest ways to brainstorm is to have everyone write down 3 ideas related to a topic and share. Or, you can have one person share one idea and ask the next person to build on that idea. Keep going around until all thoughts have been exhausted.
  3. Think about the opposite. I find thinking in the negative helps me find the positive. If I think about what hasn’t worked or what the situation may look like without finding a new idea, that leads me to see the positive or at least something new to try.
  4. Fold your laundry. As I said above, do a rote task to allow your mind to wander and think about something in a new way. For me, it is baking or folding laundry. For others, it can be knitting, doing Sudoku, cleaning a bathroom (my least favorite activity on the planet). Sometimes when we are engaged in mindless tasks, our minds can focus without us even knowing they are. I know…a little creepy but it works.
  5. Don’t let insomnia go to waste. For those of us who struggle to fall asleep or wake up and can’t get back to sleep, this is the time when, weirdly, new ideas come to us. I have solved many problems at 3 am but find that I forget them when I get up for my morning meeting. Trust me. You will not remember that awesome idea when 7 am rolls around. Having a little notepad on our phones or on our bedside table can help with this. Even the smallest little note can trigger our brains to remember what we were thinking.
  6. Take a break. Many of us took a break at the end of the year to rest, relax, laugh and take stock. But, I don’t advise taking a break only at the end of a year. Sometimes, taking a personal day or afternoon off is required to recharge. Taking a true lunch break, going for a walk, exercising, playing with your dog can help new ideas come to you.
  7. Doodle in a notebook. I can’t draw. If you ever play Pictionary with me, you don’t want me on your team. We will lose. But, even if you can’t draw, I recommend doodling in a notebook to spark your brain. While I don’t doodle, I do tend to re-trace my words I write down while I think. If a handwriting analyst ever looked at my notebook, they might tell me I am OCD. I really just keep my hands busy while my brain is chugging along. Since I don’t draw, I re-write words.
  8. Read. Yeah…makes sense, right? But, when I say read, I mean read a wide variety of things. I read brain science books, crime novels, the latest business book, self-help books, biographies and even popular magazines. I had one of my best organizational ideas for work come from a 100-word insert in Good Housekeeping!
  9. Daydream. When was the last time you just looked out a window or sat in your patio chair? While this helps us relax, it also gives our brains a mental break to conjure something. Again, don’t force it. Use this time to decompress; but, when we are relaxed, good ideas can come to us. I rarely find that I have awesome ideas under pressure.
  10. Ping off of others. While I recommend brainstorming up front with others, I also recommend sharing your ideas once they are crystallized. I may have great brainwaves at 3 am but they become even better when I share with others and get their thoughts. Collaborating and discussing ideas with others can only make them stronger. We always need others’ perspectives to validate our thinking, challenge it or flat out refute it. Whatever happens as a result of team discussion is a positive outcome.
  11. Try something. As I have written many times, try something out. Take action and see if it is a good idea. Like some dresses, they may look great on the hanger but when I try it on? Um…no! Why did I ever think that red sequin dress would flatter my curves? Conversely, maybe you try out a new idea and it excels; it changes things for the better. You never know until you try it out.
  12. Iterate. My favorite word today…iterate. We need to abandon the concept of perfect. No such thing. Try something out and iterate on it. I used to spend months and months behind the magic black curtain getting a new project just right and then release it with a bang. Ta-da! Only then did I find out that things had changed rendering this new project not valuable. To be agile and fast-paced, we must commit to pushing out ideas that are good enough, solicit feedback, note the current environment and make them better.

As we are thinking about new ideas and new ways of approaching our work, don’t force it. Do things that allow your brain to think freely. Pay attention to what you are thinking about when gardening, running or reading. Always have something near you to jot down an idea in your phone or on a notepad. Connect with others and give it a whirl. You never know what the outcome will be.

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