7 Strategies for Producing a Quantity of Ideas

© James Thew - Fotolia.comDuring my senior year in college I had a professor tell us that we didn’t need to read the 880 page text book if we didn’t want to. It was a great relief to me, except the way he shared the comment caused me to question why he might say what he did. I dove into the book and consumed it within a few weeks.

I was all the more amazed to learn that 100% of the students in the class did the same thing. It drove me to ask the head of the communications department about how often books are actually read. He stated that there was only one book in one particular class that had 100% readership every semester.

There were two grades in the class, one for participation in discussions and another for a semester end report on the topic of our choice. The class was the most amazing one I had taken throughout all my years of study and I attribute it to one comment the professor shared just before he told us we didn’t have to read the book.

“This semester, I only have one goal for this class. I’m going to teach you how to think.”

My mind has been racing ever since.

This past weekend I shared with a friend that the proof copies of my latest book arrived. She could tell by the tone of my voice that I was happy with the accomplishment. In fact, there was a certain level of excitement, not wanting to wait a couple more weeks for the book’s official release.

That positive energy caused me to share how far along I was on my next book, which generated an interesting response, “Don’t you ever stop and rest?

The amount of writing I do on a regular basis could fill about six books a year. Between emails, business documents, blog posts, e-zines, screenplays, and books, I seem to have no lull in the ability to think up things to write about. I attribute this to God’s gifting in my life and what my professor taught us about thinking.

According to my professor… Thinking up new ideas is simply about coming up with something original by incorporating random elements into the creative process to deconstruct existing patterns in order to reorganize them in new ways. Simple…right?

Here are the 7 strategies that can be used to accomplish this above definition:

1. Continuous Thinking

People think every work needs to be of high quality, but over time those who produce a volume of work end up with the greatest of works. Thinking often is the key to productivity, invention, innovation and achievement.

Michael Jordan is known for his incredible shots and held the record as the highest scorer in basketball history, and, the record for the most misses. Bach wrote a cantata every week and Mozart generated 600+ musical scores. Thomas Edison created 1, 093 patents by assigning himself the duty of inventing something minor every 10 days and something major every six months. Einstein published 248 papers including one on relativity.

2. Combinatory Play

Taking time to randomly put various combinations of ideas together will develop some of great value. This process must be done in a playful form as it involves the conscious and subconscious thinking process.

The Scientific Genius, published in 1988, suggested that geniuses are considered genius only because they take more time creating unique or novel combinations of existing ideas than the normal person. This act of randomly combining or recombining images, ideas, thoughts, and so forth, into new combinations both consciously and subconsciously generates even more new ideas than most people take time to think through.

Einstein’s equation of E=mc2 was developed by just looking at energy, mass and speed of light in a new way. He didn’t invent the concepts, but instead just established a new perspective that changed our world. And, for Einstein it was all about having fun. He called his process “combinatory play”.

3. Change the Juxtaposition

Shifting the juxtaposition of an idea through time, space, category or other non-related venues or circumstances, will create something all together new.

Samuel Morse, who invented Morse code, was trying to figure out how to produce a signal strong enough that it would survive across the country. One day he watched horses being exchanged at a relay station and juxtaposed the idea of using relay stations with his cables. This led to the invention of relay boxes or repeaters to boost the signal numerous times to get it across the country. Morse would not have succeeded, had Leonardo da Vinci not first made the juxtaposition of water ripples with the sound of a bell ringing, thereby realizing that sound traveled in waves.

4. Combine the Incompatible

Everyone knows that you can’t combine incompatible things without some form of ramification, yet the new combination typically drives change and new ideas. While most people will say it wouldn’t make sense to combine the incompatible, geniuses do it to force a new breed of thinking when looking at a problem.

Niels Bohr tried hard to combine the idea that light is a particle and a wave. This thought pattern allowed him a new perspective that led to the principle of complementarity, a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics.

5. Transfer the Metaphor

Finding some form of resemblance between one area of life and another was considered by Aristotle to be a sign of genius. By finding those relationships from unlike sources, allows us to think in new ways and develop ideas never considered.

It only took Thomas Edison one day to invent the phonograph after he saw the resemblance between a toy funnel and the motion of a paper man and sound waves. Alexandra Graham Bell invented the telephone after comparing the inner workings of the ear with the membrane used to move steel.

6. Find it in Failure

The number of inventions that were accidentally created when someone was working on another invention is staggeringly high. Rather than conducting a review of a failed attempt on what was intended or expected, the question that can advance the creative process and innovation is “What have we done?”

Thomas Edison was struggling with how to create the filament for light bulbs and to calm his nerves he played with some putty stretching and twisting it – Leading to the idea of twisting the carbon like rope. B.F. Skinner invented more things than what he set out to do because he would shift to whatever he found interest in rather than operating according to his preconceived plan.

7. Collaboration of Elements

Collaborative outcomes seem to always be greater than the sum of the individually presented elements. This is accomplished by a team of people allowing all ideas to grow, without shooting down any of them. During this process no one has to tell anyone that their part of the idea won’t work or isn’t any good, as everyone will see what portions of the ideas build on the whole and raise the level of excellence with little effort.

The greatest lesson about thinking doesn’t come from what we are supposed to think about, but rather some of the ways to think. For instance, if you were told to count the number of O’s in the below diagram…


O   O   X   O   O   O

O   X   O   O   O   O

O   O   O   O   X   O

O   O   O   X   O   O

O   O   O   X   O   O

O   O   O   O   O   O

Would you count up all the O’s?

Or, would you count up the X’s and subtract it from six rows times six columns? By counting the O’s, you see things the way the system taught you to see it. By counting the X’s, you’re finding an alternative process that saves you time and gives you a unique perspective in life.

Like all creativity, there is no right or wrong answer, just a new or old perspective. By thinking according to the old perspective, we will come up with the same ideas that hundreds of others will have, but by thinking in a new way we can create and develop new ideas that have never been considered before.



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