Where do ideas come from?

Where do ideas come from?

Ideas are the lifeblood of the creative. But where do ideas come from? How do they reproduce and multiply?

Here are a few ideas about ideas from our PechaKucha presentation (20 slides, 20 seconds each) at the 2018 CU Water Cooler How To Conference:

Did you know that we were all once a creative genius?

As infants we had twice as many connections between the neurons in our brain. And without knowing any languagejust by watching and listening, we were able to figure out how to get whatever we wanted from those big goofy people around us.

Now that’s Genius!

Sadly though, as the human brain matures, those neuron connections disappear. 1600 children were given a NASA creativity test at ages 5 (98% of them had genius scores), 10 (30%), and again at 15 (12%).  Their results were compared to a test group of 280,000 adults (only 2% had genius scores), and here we are.

So, if we’re not creative geniuses anymorethen where do ideas come from?

In ancient Greece people weren’t even seen as creative. Creativity was credited to spirits that lived in people’s homes. The Greeks called them “daemons”, but the Romans referred to them as geniuses. Especially the daemons that came out of the floor, those “mat daemons.”

Fast-forward, and Europe’s Scientific Revolution was becoming their Age of Enlightenment.

All thanks to coffee.

Up until then, everyone drank beer all day long. Because beer was safer to drink than water. Like beer, coffee was brewed with hot water, which helped to kill the germs.

Plus it had caffeine.

People went from tipsy to wired, and suddenly the coffee house was the hottest joint in town for news and information. People were packed in, discussing revolutionary new concepts like individual libertyand separation of church and state.

Like coffee, these revolutionary new ideas were eye-opening, and they had a big influence on North America as well.

Ben Franklin loved the coffee house debates, and brought the latest ideas back to Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison used these new ideas in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

That’s the power of great ideas.

Now some people think that ideas happen as a bolt out of the blue.

Charles Darwin claimed his theory of evolution was an epiphany. But when researchers went through his notes, they found that he had basically written everything down months before. So you could even say his theory evolved over time.

Then there are those ideas built through interaction.

Remember the coffee houses, with people excitedly sharing ideasIf you follow that same basic concept over several generations, you’ll likely end up at today’s brainstorm sessions.

Still fueled by coffee. And sometimes pizza.

Brainstorm sessions. Where ideas combine and recombine, meet, mingle, and mate.

That’s right. Ideas get better when they can hook up with other ideas and produce new ideas, passing along their best qualities to each new generation of ideas.

For a brainstorm session to work well, you need to invite a wide cross-section of peopleEngineers and accountants. Marketing and Operations. Maybe even IT. Because it’s those unlikely combinations that give you the best chance of conceiving new ideas.

Remember, we were all once genius babies.

Just be sure to follow the Jeff Bezos rule: don’t invite more than you can feed with two pizzas.

Keep it between 6-10 people, stir in some coffee and begin by laying out a few ground rules, so that everyone’s ideas can meet and mingle on equal terms:

(1) Job titles don’t matter. Everyone is equal, and everyone’s ideas are just as valid.
(2) Quantity is more important than quality. At least for now, the more creative ideas, the better.
(3) No negativity. Say something positive about the last idea and build on it, or share something even better.

Then, make sure everyone understands the problem you’re trying to solve: What are the main issues? What’s already been tried? What worked and what didn’t? Who’s the target audience and what would really grab their attention?

Once everyone understands the strategy…


Toss a few ideas out on the floor in order to get them dancing around with everyone else’s ideas. Nudge some of those silly ideas into the middle of the room. After all, a silly idea strutting its stuff just might start to look really good to another idea.

Keep introducing ideas to each other to see which ones click. and if you’re lucky, two ideas will meet, fall in love, and make beautiful idea babies. 

You’ll want to use about half your time to generate enough new ideas that you’ll need to stop and figure out which ones are keepers. To do that…

Take your ideas and strip them down until they are completely bare.

Nothing extra. Nothing to hide behind. Getting down to the bare essentials will show you which ideas are the strongest and healthiest, without any gimmicks.

Next, think about the problem you’re trying to solve as you take a closer look.

Swipe left on the ones that still don’t stand a chance, and swipe right on the ideas that have potential.

If you want to keep a couple of those silly but good-looking ideas in the mix, that’s okay, because everyone likes to have a little fun.

Then start building a consensus with your team

Which ideas would everyone be willing to date? What ideas are the ones no one wants to be seen withWhich ideas have a certain somethingbut just aren’t ready to take home to meet the parents?

Keep in mind that almost all ideas will need some color and details added before you take them out in public. But if you find you’re still missing that extra spark, it’s also okay to start over with a different team and see what kind of electricity they can generate. Gather a new group, with a new combination, or ask your favorite agency to add their expertise.

Remember, ideas get better when everyone joins in. But when ideas get busy and make even more ideas?

That’s when magic happens.

Kent Dicken

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