Where good ideas come from
Robert L. Fielding
What is a good idea? We might start by looking how the words, ‘good’ and ‘idea’ can be used and are defined. Since the word ‘good’ is a sort of catch-all word with as many meanings as it attaches itself to as an adjective, we might be well-advised to look at the list of synonyms that appear most appropriate as an adjective to describe an idea. Here is a list of synonyms for ‘good’.
commonsense, commonsensible,commonsensical, firm, hard, informed, just,
justified,levelheaded, logical, rational, reasonable, reasoned,sensible, sober, solid, valid, well-founded
However, few, if any of those words conjure up the notion of creative. In fact, most synonyms of the word ‘good’ relate to qualities of things, rather than thoughts.
Let’s try a word like ‘creative’ and see what we get: clever, imaginative, ingenious, innovational,innovative, innovatory, inventive, original, originative,Promethean
gifted, inspired, talented; resourceful; fecund, fertile, fruitful, generative, germinal, productive
Now, these words seem more appropriate when describing a ‘good idea’. They conjure up the essence of all that is good about a ‘good idea’, particularly in the context of this discussion.
Now for the word ‘idea’, defined as:
Something, such as a thought or conception, that potentially or actually exists in the mind as a product of mental activity.
I also want to introduce the adjective ‘new’ so that the ‘good idea’ in the title, ‘Where good ideas come from, refers to good ideas that are new ones, original ones, new, perhaps not in any real absolute sense, but rather meant to refer to those ideas that are good ones and are new and original to the person thinking them, and then outlining them.
This outlining is essential for my purpose; good ideas that never make the light of day remain day-dreams, untried, untested, unverified, undefended and unexplained. Those ‘good ideas’ I want to discuss the origins of are those that do make the light of day, as we say, that are tried and tested, verified, defended and explained, and survive the onslaught of doubt, and are still thought of as ‘good ideas’.
In fact, we might go so far as to say that such good ideas are ones which effect some alternative preferable to those that have gone before. It does seem commonsense to talk about those ideas that change something for the better.
Thus, originality in thought seems to be synonymous with creativity: ‘Creativity can be defined as the process of generating something that makes a difference. It is about doing something or making something that in some way changes the world or changes how someone experiences it.’
It can occur in any sphere of human activity. Often it is quite spontaneous, a natural reaction to an event or circumstances when a creative response is almost accidental in nature. More interestingly it can also be a deliberate form of action, a process that can be learnt, a process that can be nurtured. (ibid)
So, having a good idea can be something like a ‘light-bulb/Eureka moment, which occurs as quick as a flash, or it can be the product of a way of thinking – of orienting oneself to events, things, people, circumstances or dilemmas, for example.
It is this second, more deliberate way of coming up with good ideas that interests me. The Eureka moments – flashes of inspiration, are valuable, but I don’t think we have time to sit around and wait for them to happen. Rather, it might be more productive to look at the ways we can be creative on a regular basis rather than relying on something like lightning to strike.
A good starting point would be to say that in order to be creative, a person needs to have certain qualities:
*A creative person:
Curiosity is the starting point in the process of coming up with ideas. You have to be curious, to wonder if something could be changed, to give enough thought to whatever it is you think could benefit from change.
Flexibility is another vital quality for anyone who has new ideas. Having a mind opposed to flexibility – rigidity – would inhibit the production of anything new.
The writer, E.M. Forster famously once said, “Only connect”, and although he was probably talking about what writers do, it is good advice for anyone wanting to be innovative. Connecting things that are not normally thought capable of being connected is the hallmark of the creative mind.
Disorder can be threatening to some people, and seen as an opportunity to others. Putting some different kind of order to what looks chaotic is again a creative exercise.
Unorthodox situations, solutions, or answers point to a creative mind. Some find unorthodox ideas threatening, out of the question, as they say, or just ridiculous. Creative people are not so threatened by unorthodox thoughts. On the contrary, they revel in them.
Experimenting is something akin to daydreaming – saying ‘What if…? Testing out experiments brings the ideas underpinning them to fruition of finality.
Is open to new experiences
Being conservative in thought word and deed usually signals that someone is not open to new experiences – finds them threatening and unpleasant. Those who are open to new experiences probably have a much more optimistic outlook on life and enjoy life much more too.
Has the courage to take risks
Taking risks always requires some courage. It is in overcoming the threat risk taking poses that we find confidence to take more risks; not with abandon, but with a rational calculation of the odds of being successful.
Enjoys humor and playfulness
It is in our play and in humour that we find our real selves, escape, however momentarily, from the day to day, often stultifying routines that mark our days. Humour and play are antidotes to the boredom of routine, and they are terrific stress relievers too.
Sees similarities and differences
Our ability to see similarities in things, in people, goes a long way towards ensuring that we do not become cynical or prejudiced. Seeing the differences allows us to see gaps in our intuition.
Is independent and self-reliant
There is nothing like being self-reliant and independent of thought to free a person from the chains that bind. With such freedom, comes freedom to ponder, freedom to enquire, and freedom to experiment.
Is persistent and goal-directed
10% inspiration and 90% perspiration is the ratio of effort needed to see an idea though to its conclusion. The inspiration comes first, the perspiration ensures fulfillment.
Questions accepted ways of doing things
Questioning accepted ways of doing things is something that is generally frowned upon, from the time we first ask, “Why?” to our having the confidence and the sense to question whether something is good just because it has always been done that way. However, novelty for the sake of it can be less than valuable too.
Having confidence generally equates with a personality that can cope with criticism and be resilient to it. Any new idea will always meet with some resistance, initially; having the confidence to be forthright and persistent pays off.
Isn’t scared of being wrong
One thing experts like Sir Ken Robinson, the noted British educationalist, says is that if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will most probably never come up with anything new. He adds that although being wrong is not the same as being creative, not being frightened of it bodes well for anybody’s creative aspirations.
Is open minded
Being open minded is synonymous with finding others’ thoughts and ideas acceptable. If a new idea is someone else’s, it doesn’t mean it should be ridiculed or banished. Having a closed mind is one of the ways to dying a death, whilst the opposite is to assert one is alive and a member of the human race – an active member.
Some people get a ‘feeling’ that something will work or turn out right, and although in tuition needs other qualities like logic and creativity to bear fruit, it is nevertheless a spring-board from which to start.
An adventurous nature goes with youth; not only the young can be youthful. Youthfulness is as much a state of mind as it is of the calendar. Loving adventure is living life at full speed; recklessness is not the same, however.
Is willing to accept others’ ideas
It is in accepting others’ ideas that we find friends, colleagues who become friends, or those who are merely interested in the same things we are. Competition is fine, but collaboration is more productive.
Is unwilling to accept ideas just because they are older
Accepting the ‘status-quo’ is something we all have to do to get by, for most of the time, but a healthy doubt that everything that is habitual is fine is integral to having productive thoughts. Everything that is older, however, isn’t necessarily always in need of being changed.
Isn’t merely fascinated by novelty
Novelty, when it does not serve a purpose is called fashion. A fashion is merely a wish for novelty for its own sake. Being fascinated by novelty is not as useful as being intrigued by it.
Is interested in the modern and the new
Since we live in this new age of technical innovation, we should be interested in it. If we are not, it might mean that we find it threatening. Challenging head on the things we find threatening renders them non-threatening, and in some cases welcome.
Tenacity is persistence added to determination; good ideas need to be worked on and through if they are to become anything more than dreams. Dreams are fine, but without some direction and application, they rarely see the light of day. Good ideas are dreams that are realized!
*My list added to by Fisher R, (2005) page 75
If you rarely have new ideas, and almost never have new ones that turn out to be good ones, you might do well to take another look at the qualities of those who do have them. If you score low on most of those, then you might need to change in some way or other.
Now, nearly everybody has some resistance to change built in to their persona. If we did not, we wouldn’t be the people we are, and if most of us were any other way than how we are, the world would not turn as effortlessly as it usually and happily does.
Change, if it is to be effected, is best to be incremental and purposeful, rather than radical and chaotic. If you can change some aspects of your life without losing control or tiring yourself out, without losing your bearings in life, then change, when it comes will be welcome. No one wants to be ‘cast adrift in an open boat on a choppy sea, so to speak.
So much for the popular, psychological-philosophical drift. Next comes the practical side of the getting of good ideas. First, it has been said that in order to have a good idea, you need to have lots of ideas, and having lots of ideas is something that can be worked upon and developed.
The early stages of producing lots of ideas begins, for me, with making connections, associations, so that when I think of one word, ten more come out of the filing cabinet that is my brain. Similarly, if I can’t think of the name of something, I think of something that I have closely associated with it and the word comes out soon afterwards.
You might say that’s fine and dandy for me, but your brain doesn’t work like that, to which I say, make it work like that – get those synapses crackling – forge new neural networks by associating, by seeing similarities in seemingly otherwise disparate items. I do, all the time, and it is something I work on regularly and often.
I do crosswords – not just the harder, cryptic ones, but also the easier ones, asking for synonyms and the like. When doing these, easier types, I set myself rules that make me work harder to solve them. I will only try solving clues in which I have the first letter in place, for example.
When thinking something through, I sleep on it, if there is time, and invariably come up with something innovative and new the day after. I do not thrash about half the night worrying. To me, worrying is the counter-productive part of wondering; worrying is putting a value on something that hasn’t happened yet and then willing it to happen merely by making yourself miserable about what will happen if it doesn’t.
The Eastern philosophies have plenty to say about such things, whereas the Western ones tend to look at ideas and such in ways that are more logical. I think the saying, ‘East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet!’ stems from this seemingly very great difference in our respective ways of looking at ourselves and our ways of thinking, and what thought actually is, come to think of it.
Whether you hail from the Orient or the Occident, you are just as likely to be able to come up with ideas; the ability isn’t cast in granite; the human mind is adaptable to practically anything.
Connect – not only those things that everybody else connects, but try to find originality in your connecting. One way of doing this is to do those little games in children’s comics – those little exercises in which one letter is changed to make a new word, and so on until the last, given words is reached. My take on this is to see how many people come between me and someone well known – the six degrees of separation they say exists between everyone and everyone else.
I think there is something similar between things too. See how many steps it takes you to get from OXYGEN to PAPER or from OXYGEN to JOHN LENNON.
These are not just idiotic mind games, though that is precisely what they are, and no harm in that, but ways of exercising that which we sometimes prefer not to exercise – the mind! By exercising the mind, you will find ideas flow. My way of capturing them for potential posterity is to write about them – give them a life, show them to others, have them discussed, even discarded sometimes – most of the time actually, but that doesn’t matter much to me; I don’t own them, I just have them, they are not mine, and, I know I’ll have many, many more. That’s the beauty of having ideas, you see; more ideas lead to more ideas, the source never dries up – I won’t let it!
Here are some links to sites on ways to come up with ideas.
Talk – On getting creative ideas – Murray Gell-Mann
Ten steps to boost your creativity
Getting creative things done: How to fit hard thinking into a busy schedule
Brainstorming ideas to help you think outside the box – a compendium
Robert L. Fielding
Fisher R (2005) Teaching children to learn Nelson Thornes Cheltenham UK