How to Find Good Ideas for Business and Life

Finding ideas is not easy, but finding good ideas is even more difficult. So how can we find good ideas? There is a lesson about it I learned from the book On Writing Well:

You should always collect more material than you will use. Every article is strong in proportion to the surplus of details from which you can choose the few that will serve you best.

Good ideas This paragraph talks about how to find good ideas for an article, but I believe the same principle also applies to business and life. To find good ideas, you should:

  1. Have as many ideas as possible, and then
  2. Choose the few ideas that serve you best

In other words, you should have the habit of collecting as many unfiltered ideas as possible, so that you can choose the best ones out of them. This is not a new principle; brainstorming sessions do this. But sometimes we forget this principle and try to find good ideas directly without first collecting many ideas.

With this principle in mind, here are some steps to find good ideas:

1. Expect ideas from every situation

Don’t limit yourself to find ideas only in the situations that you think suit your problem best. Often we find fresh ideas from unexpected sources. Therefore, whatever you do and whoever you meet, open your eyes and be prepared to get new ideas. For instance, be prepared to find ideas when:

  1. You read something, even if it seems unrelated.
  2. You talk to someone, whoever he or she is.
  3. You watch television or video
  4. You work out
  5. You see people do things

2. Bring a capture tool wherever you go

If you expect ideas from every situation, consequently you should always be prepared to capture your ideas. So bring a capture tool wherever you go (see also tips to never lose your ideas). Mine is simply a folded piece of paper and a pen in my pocket. Whenever an idea pops up, I just take them and quickly write the idea down. Later I will transfer all the ideas on the paper into my computer.

3. Don’t filter the ideas you get

This is an important principle. Whenever I try to filter my ideas from the beginning, I find the quantity and quality of the ideas decrease. Your task for now is just to get as many ideas as possible – you will worry about filtering later. Remember the quote from On Writing Well above: “You should always collect more material than you will use.”

4. After you’ve collected enough ideas, filter them

After you think you’ve collected enough ideas, then it’s the time to filter them. Again, from the quote above: “choose the few that will serve you best.” Now that you have enough ideas to choose from, chance is you will have a few that are good.

***

Besides collecting as many ideas as possible, it’s good to increase the quality of your input. That way you can have higher-quality ideas to choose from. Here are some tips to increase the quality of input:

  1. Diversify your reading
  2. Choose the most important book to read next
  3. Get the most out of your reading
  4. Surround yourself with positive people
  5. Find a mentor
  6. Use the art of arbitrage and increase your arbitrage power

Do you have other tips to find good ideas? I would love to hear them.

Photo by [O*] ‘BharaT

14 Comments

  1. Learn something new – something that has nothing to do with what you do for work. Take a dance class. Learn to knit. Seeing anything with “fresh” eyes always makes my vision sharper in other areas.

  2. A very good principle, both simple and effective. Every idea is helpful. Even if you end up not using it, it will help you think of related ideas, or help you adjust your thinking.

  3. Shawn,
    I agree with you. Whenever I learn something new, I do see other areas differently. It’s like I have a new lens to see through. Nice tip!

    Hunter,
    Yes, every idea is helpful. In fact, I believe that ideas are cross-pollinating: the more ideas we have, the more ideas we will get.

  4. Your inner critic will tell you an idea is dangerous or stupid or crazy. It’ll never work, he says. Those are the ideas you need to stop and examine closer, because those are the ideas you may be able to craft into something unique and life changing. Use your inner critic as an alarm for ‘great’ ideas.

    Good post.

  5. Great post. I always carry around a voice recorder with me to remember epiphanies, ideas and plans. All the best, Brad

  6. Hi Donald,
    “You should always collect more material than you will use”. This is my regular practice. When I find something interesting the I could write about, I either write it down on a notebook, or if its web related I “save” it for later use.

    Over the years I have accumulated a lot of content which I “saved for later”, and now I have the problem of finding something about an exact topic. Is there a approach you use to simplify this problem?

    Thank you
    Shamelle

  7. Steve,
    That’s a great idea. Often the ideas that seem counterintuitive are those that can give us the biggest return. Using our inner critic as an alarm is a creative way to recognize such ideas.

    Brad,
    I like your using voice recorder as a capture tool. It helps us capture ideas when we can’t write (e.g. when we are driving).

    Shamelle,
    I use Scrapbook (a Firefox extension) to save interesting materials I find on the web. Since Scrapbook has built-in search feature, it’s easy to find materials related to a particular topic. I also use Google Desktop Search to help me find the right materials on my computer that are not saved in Scrapbook. I don’t know if these tools work for you, but perhaps you could give them a try.

  8. […] 5. Celebrate your successes. This builds your momentum for the next challenge. […]

  9. I find that I am constantly collecting ideas. It’s amazing, some of the things I write about today are ideas that came about more than 10 years ago.

    Sometimes, ideas need to “germinate” and a good use for them will “emerge” at the right time.

    Take care

    Mr Positioning (Stanley F. Bronstein, Atty, CPA, Author and Professional Speaker)

  10. Donald
    I have learn’t that I can voice record on my mobile phone. Now all I have to do is remeber it is there when I have an idea.

    Leona

  11. Stanley,
    Yes, it’s an interesting fact that some ideas are used long after they were first found. We often don’t know when we will use an idea.

    Leona,
    That’s a useful tip. Virtually everyone carries a cell phone, so we always have a capture tool ready that way.

  12. Collecting ideas is great. Just knowing that you have it stored somewhere other than you brain is such a relief, frees you up to keep thinking.

    I have a folder of collected ideas and I’m constantly amazed at the connections that I make between seemingly unrelated ideas.

    http://thinkinghow.com/collecting-ideas/

  13. Hello,

    Thank you for your tips !

    I trend to use a notepad and my pen to capture all ideas I get. Only when I’ve many possible ideas, I filter them to keep the few but “best”.

    Thanks for other ideas.

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