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I have an idea...

"When I am...completely myself, entirely alone...or during the night when I cannot sleep, it is on such occassions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how these ideas come I know not nor can I force them." - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Let's first dispel the myth that only creative artist types get ideas. Not true. Everyone has ideas, every day, every hour. "Let me make pancakes for breakfast." "I'll join this meeting from my phone so I can go for a walk." "We should move the book club meeting to Wednesday night."

One definition from Merriam-Webster is that an "idea" is a "formulated thought or opinion." It's that easy. As Thomas Edison said, "To have a great idea, have a lot of them." Yes, having a large number of "formulated thoughts" in a single area is the best way to find your great idea.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic and we all have been impacted - some of us more than others. This may be the time to pursue that idea you've had for years. For some, it might be writing that novel. For others, taking a language course or painting again. Some of us might be interested in building a new website or mobile app or cloud service.

Regardless of your dream, this is as good a time as any. Isaac Newton came up with the Theory of Gravity while he was quarantined for the Plague.

Here are a few things to think about as you develop your next great idea.

  • Write them down. Keep a notebook (physical or digital, it doesn't matter) with you all the time.

  • Start with a focus area. Your journey may lead you down many different paths, but as you generate ideas, try to focus on the problem you're trying to solve. It will evolve, but starting with a focus will help.

  • Defer judgement. Even if it seems that an idea is impossible to implement or seems ridiculous, don't dismiss it - write it down. In 1975, Gary Dahl invented the "Pet Rock" which sold 1.5 million rocks for $4 each.

  • Think about problems you face personally that you would love to see someone fix. Why not you?

  • Take a solution from one domain and apply it to another. Uber and AirBnB are essentially the same idea in two separate domains.

  • Take breaks. You might have heard of people getting great ideas in the shower. Or the famous story of Archimedes shouting "eureka" when he had an idea about how to solve a problem in the bathtub. When you take time away, your mind will relax and make new connections. The quote above shows Mozart with the same experience.

  • Talk about it. When you talk to others about your idea – even at a high level – you will get feedback and be able to judge areas that need refining. Stephen Hawking said, “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind's greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn't have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

  • Research – surf the web and see what – or if – the state of the art looks like. I once thought that 3D printed snacks would be the next big thing – only to find there are a dozen companies looking at this.

  • Read books on Mind Mapping, Creativity, Innovative Teams, famous innovators. Steve Jobs, Edison, da Vinci, Bill Gates, Picasso, Disney.

  • Read research papers. Search on Google Scholar/Bing Academic or just add “filetype:PDF” to your search. What is the current research in your area.

  • Don’t give up – even if you find a dozen companies, that doesn’t necessarily mean you stop. In my example, maybe I consider 3D printed spices, or sub sandwiches, or cooking utensils – tweak your idea and find your niche.

People have said that ideas are like children, they need to be nurtured and fed, protected and coddled – and also that everyone loves their own 😊

We are living in historic times and just as Isaac Newton did centuries ago, we can take advantage of this to develop our ideas into something real and life-changing – for ourselves, our communities, and our world.

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