Monday, April 20, 2009

Where Do Ideas Come From?

This is an interesting question to think about. Obviously ideas can come from a lot of places. But, I think there are some conducive actions and mindsets that we can cultivate in ourselves and in our habits such that we can become more likely to have ideas come.

First and foremost, it helps to be open to less control in your beliefs.  If you think you have it all figured out and you have your life situated just so - efficient and safe, why do you even need a good idea because you have it all figured out.  Instead I think you have to loosen your control and dependence on the status quo and be open to new ways of thinking, doing, and being. You have to be interested in the future and interested in having a voice in designing it. You have to be willing to question assumptions and to honor different paths and solutions to life's challenges.  You have to be willing to ask the non-obvious question, the deep question, the difficult question because it is from those rich, searching questions that full, authentic answers comes. Asking the right question is key.

Second, you have to learn to see. You have to stop encountering the world on automatic pilot and consciously disrupt your automatic thoughts, habits, and reactions.  When I am feeling stale and stagnant, about to be subsumed by status quo and mediocrity, I intentionally turn the subtleties of my day upside down.  I use my non-dominant hand to brush my teeth. I stop drinking coffee and fix herbal tea as my morning drink, which I don't like doing but because it is a conscious and willful act on my part I am in touch with the purposefulness of the disruption.  I drive into town via a different, inefficient route through parts of the city that I never cruise. I listen to my kids' CDs on the way instead of NPR.  All of the above happens in the first hour of being awake and the effect is that I tell my brain to wake up and start scanning for information because the routine is not happening today.  I proceed with intentional disruption for the rest of the day, continuing for a week or so.  And, I pay attention to the different thoughts that I have, and I record them all day long, not manipulating them at this point, just recording them knowing that they can fit somewhere.

All the time while I am making the insignifica of my life conscious, I am open and sensory aware to see and experience everything in a new way.  In my interactions with people, I don't react to what is said or done. Instead I play scenarios in my head that take in the bigger picture.  If someone says something snarky or superficial in a meeting, I rewind their tape in my head and try to get in touch with what their whole day and whole life must be like. What do they value? What limits have they created for themselves and those around them that causes their behavior? What fears have caused them to stay in the safe land of superficiality where everything is nice, or the tightly controlled regimen of efficient detailed plans that keep life's divine spontenaity at bay? I try to figure the right questions to ask and to imagine as many answers as possible, not deciding on a right one, but exercising my creative imaginative brain muscle, developing my sense of empathy and compassion. I think with my heart in this moment, keeping my head out of the picture because it wants to defend and judge.

Another way to nurture the possibility of an idea is to hang around people and places that like and value ideas and learning.  This is easy to do these days thanks to blogs, Twitter, video chat, and a regular stream of email with lots of people.  What do you think?  I ask lots of people this about lots of topics all day long.  Here is what I think, what am I missing, what can you add to help build a bigger idea, what might I have discounted or overlooked

Having an idea that has possibility to me is about building, one perspective and bit of wisdom upon another, thinking about each component part at a time and intentionally guarding against automatic, routine, expected, easy answers that are habitual. To me, the easy, obvious defensive answers are laziness taken root in the mind. Those aren't ideas, those are habits. Weeds. 

One place to hang out with ideas is Ideablob where micropreneurs have an ideafest, telling the world about their ideas in hopes to find production partners.  Another fun place to hang is Quixoting, a blog devoted to thinking out loud in public about stuff.

Why not?

We forget to take time in our busy lives to question the everyday, and it is in the questioning of the everyday that the next new thing that makes the everyday better, easier, more meaningful lives.  We just need to take the time and effort to prepare ourselves for ideas to come everyday.

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