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By Joshua Belhumeur

Where Good Ideas Come From

Neuroscientist Rex Jung defines creativity as “the process of making something both novel and useful.” Without usefulness, nothing matters. Without novelty, nobody cares.

So how do we go about finding creative ideas?

Great ideas often feel like magic. That’s because creative thoughts originate in your unconscious brain then literally burst into your consciousness, the so-called “Aha Moment”. Eureka!

But those thoughts don’t develop out of nothing. Your unfathomable supercomputer of a brain is crunching data points in the background and making unique connections, then serving them up to you. That’s the skill we humans evolved that made us so damn intelligent (well, some of us): the ability to recognize patterns and learn from them.

Knowing this and the other available science around creativity, consider adopting the following behaviors to bring better creative ideas to your organization:
Deconstruct great creative ideas specific to your industry: What is it doing? Why is it great? Find the structure and mechanics behind it.

Emulate the work or style of work in a sort of mad libs style as a form of sharpening your creative capacity.

Begin any new creative task as a sponge to seek insights that might spark the idea. Absorb everything you can about the company, customers, and competition. And as Paula Scher says: “Be culturally literate, because if you don’t have any understanding of the world you live in and the culture you live in, you’re not going to express anything to anybody else.”

Understand and define the guardrails that keep you focused on being useful while having space for novelty.

Map your thoughts out using a mind map so that you can understand the various threads worth tugging on further.

Consider developing artificial constraints to help spur more novel thoughts. For example, if you are Dominos you might ask “what would it look like if Apple was making pizza?” Or when I am writing a script I might try “what would this look like if Quentin Tarantino wrote it?”. You can repeat this over and over through different lenses.

After putting in the work to really think through the problem, seek moments to foster an unconscious Aha by lowering the noise from your conscious brain. Go for walks, meditate, shower, get drunk. Whatever works for you. I have a tennis ball by my desk that I throw around when I’m thinking and it really helps.

Collaborate often, talk through ideas, show works in progress to teammates, test with audiences. Those collisions of thoughts and ideas are another great source of Aha moments because again, you are trying to foster pattern recognition and connection in your brain. What spurs the thought might be completely random.

Check out The Creative Curve by Allen Gannett who I probably stole from the most in developing this framework, along with Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.

Just like becoming a great athlete, being an amazing creative thinker involves hard work and practice. And though some people are just more innately talented at it than others, at the end of the day everyone can play ball if they put in the effort.

By Joshua Belhumeur