The reading level for this article is All Levels
A lot of great ideas happen when two or more other ideas collide to form something completely new.
Think of this like those old chemistry movies we used to watch in school. You had all of those atoms floating around and when two collided — bam! A chemical reaction. Maybe something new was created. Maybe something exploded. Or maybe it all fizzled out and nothing happened.
Well, a similar reaction is going on inside your brain or muse. Except instead of atoms floating around they’re pieces of information or other ideas. As they drift about, they occasionally bump into each other. When that happens, you may get a new, third idea. Or a big explosion. Or absolutely nothing at all.
Now, if you have lots of atoms, or information and ideas, you’re going to get lots of reactions. Some will fail. Some will be so-so. And some will be hot — so hot, so full of energy, they’ll have the power to change the trajectory of a business. Or even a life.
The problem occurs when you don’t have lots of random information and ideas. Fewer atoms mean fewer reactions. On top of that, you still have to weed through the invariable duds. So the odds of landing that one amazing idea drop considerably.
But not to worry — there’s good news. You can increase your odds of getting those great ideas. Better yet, it’s fairly easy and painless. Below are three ways to get started.
1. Read, read and read some more. I know, I know, I can hear the groans already. “But I already have too much to read. How can I fit more reading in?” Never fear, there are ways to do this. (Remember I did say this was painless.)
The key is to keep it wide and shallow. What does that mean? Well, read lots and lots of different things, but keep it general. Read about sheep farming, finances, yoga, cooking, traveling, dog training, etc. But keep it general — don’t read deeply. You can even skim if that’s all you have time for.
Start by subscribing to a couple of different magazines and e-zines. General interest magazines are really good for this — Walt Disney used to read Reader’s Digest. Scatter them around the house — by the bed, the couch, even the bathroom. I’d put a few in your car as well for those times when you have to wait for an appointment.
When you have a few moments, flip through them. Skim a few paragraphs. See what catches your eye.
You can also buy or rent audio books and CDs and listen while you exercise, drive, do the dishes, etc.
Whatever you do, DON’T read publications related to your industry. That’s for another time. This is brain-feeding time, not keeping up in your profession time.
2. Travel the world. Traveling has so many fabulous benefits for your creative soul I could write an article just about that, but for now I’ll limit my comments to brain food.
When you travel, you open yourself up to lots of new and exciting experiences. New sights, new sounds, new smells, new tastes, new textures. And they all have the ability to form a reaction with something else.
Don’t have time to hop on a plane to
3. Open yourself up to new things. Of all of these, this one is probably the scariest. But, it also has the potential to be the most powerful.
Take the time to try new things. Meet people outside your normal circle of friends. Attend associations, nonprofits, hobby groups outside of the ones you usually go to. Listen to speakers on topics you know nothing about. Take a class at a community college about something outside your scope of knowledge. Or even have dinner at an ethnic restaurant you’ve never tried.
Now I’m not just talking about “typical” creative things, like taking an art class or learning to belly dance. If you’re a creative professional, take a class on doing your own taxes or budgeting your finances or repairing your car. (Oooh, I bet all you creative folk felt a chill when I mentioned that.) The point is to really stretch yourself past your comfort zone. Make yourself uncomfortable. It’s not only a great way to grow, but it’s a fabulous way to keep your muse fat and happy.
And that helps keep the ideas flowing.
Creativity Exercises — Prepare the banquet
Over the next month, I want you do to at least one tactic from each of the above three techniques.
1. Read something you know nothing about. Even if you only spend five minutes skimming an article about quilting when the last time you tried to sew a button on a shirt you stabbed yourself with the needle and got blood all over the material.
2. Travel somewhere you’ve never been before. Even if it’s an antique shop and the most antique piece of furniture in your house is a bookshelf your parents bought from Sears when you were a little kid.
3. Stretch yourself in a different and potentially scary way. Even if it’s attending one of those Home Depot gardening workshops despite every plant you’ve tried to grow didn’t and if your thumb was any blacker it would fall off.
You know how you work better when you’re not hungry, see how well your muse starts churning out ideas after a good meal.