Harvesting Creativity

Become an Idea Person

Being able to come up with good ideas on command is a valuable – and valued – skill. In Communication World’s “Be Inspired to Innovate”, Sam Harrison shares a five-step, idea-generating methodology he designed, which begins with exploring. “Exploring is being a sponge. You absorb data and information. But what you’re really after are insights that can help you generate ideas.”He goes on to explain, “After exploration comes brainstorming. In the Explore step, you squeeze information and insight into your brain. In the Freedom step, you release the contents of your mind and welcome all ideas. Brainstorming should never be a struggle to find one great idea. It’s about coming up with as many ideas as possible in a short amount of time.” See the article for the other three steps plus tips for maximizing this approach.

Psychology Today’s Carlin Flora points out that “in today’s economic environment, no one can afford not to innovate, whether it’s doing more with a shrinking budget (household, corporate, you name it, it’s contracting), or positioning oneself to join a new industry. You may have to be creative to survive right now.

“The good news,” says Flora, “is that you can build up your innovative abilities in many ways—by doing things (noticing details in your midst, wearing your hair in a new style) that don’t sound intimidatingly ingenious. You can simply get to know your personal problem-solving style—everybody shines at different stages of the process; understanding where you fit in gives you a big advantage. And perhaps most important is adjusting your overall attitude toward life—approach your experiences with an open mind and cultivate the belief that possibilities and solutions are always within reach, and you’ll be equipped to handle any challenge with flair.”

Flora recommends several tested tips for injecting powers of innovation into your routine, including:

  • Search for Inspiration: Go to a museum or sit for a few minutes in a beautiful building or park on your lunch break. Try to notice all of the aesthetically pleasing details surrounding you.
  • Be an Aficionado: Creative people often have hobbies, and those who play musical instruments are better at associative thinking. So dust off your old guitar or stamp collection.
  • Sleep on It: Think about a thorny problem before you go to bed. REM enhances creative problem-solving and may even deliver the answer to you at dawn.

Find other exercises and suggestions for igniting your innovative abilities in her piece “Everyday Creativity.”

Hold That Thought

Familiar with the frustration of coming up dry for a good idea, professional writers learn to record and save interesting concepts they might want to develop for future projects. Setting up a file to capture ideas that surface via professors, readings, and countless other avenues will provide you with a rich resource to mine for your own assignments.

“Well-organized writers keep an idea file, a calendar, or datebook to plan ahead,” says Bruce Garrison, author of Professional Feature Writing 3rd ed. (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999), 53. “Without it, your life as a writer will be filled with scheduling chaos.”

Garrison’s suggestions for professional writers also work well for classroom or workplace writing assignments. For example, “Idea files can be as simple as scraps of paper with ideas scribbled on them and thrown into a box or file folder. Or they can be more sophisticated and better organized. You can use computer database programs or even work with a word processor to keep a list. Some writers use a card file system for managing their ideas for articles. Others prefer to use calendars or datebooks.”

See his recommendations in the chapter “Idea Files, Calendars, and Datebooks” along with the advice to “Find a system that works for you. Try different approaches until something that fits your personal style is found. If you are organized, you will be more efficient and productive in your work.”

In fact, says Alexander Hiam, many good ideas are lost and forgotten because they’re not recorded. In ”Obstacles to Creativity – and How You Can Remove Them” in The Futurist, October 1998, he notes, “If you keep a record of your ideas, then, when you need new ideas, you can start by reexamining the old ones. Some that seemed crazy a decade ago might now be viable. Others might always be crazy but serve as the spark you need to come up with more valuable concepts. This is an important practice for the individual as well as for the organization.”

His suggestions for capturing ideas include the following:

  • Use pocket message recorders: Log ideas on these handy audio devices for recording “to do” items; then write down the ideas later.
  • Leave yourself voice mail. I often call my office at night and leave idea messages so I don’t have to worry about forgetting them overnight.
  • Use e-mail. You can create an idea address and send yourself ideas – as well as scoot others’ idea-oriented e-mail into that file. Periodically, you can move the ideas into long-term storage, either on disk or on printouts of your idea file. Of course, you can also come up with your own approach to capturing ideas – something new and creative!

“Countless ideas occur to you each month,” notes Hiam, “but many are lost. If you just double the number you save, your raw material for any thinking job will be enriched by 100%.”

Explore Big Ideas

A great place to inspire your own idea generation is the site of the Lemelson-MIT Program – which “celebrates those inventors who have turned their ideas into accomplishments” and “foster(s) an enthusiasm for asking—and answering—the questions that change lives.

Visit the Invention Dimension to find a variety of information including detailed profiles and archives of inventors and their big ideas. Test your invention IQ – and ignite your imagination – with interactive games like Brain Drain and Invention Connection.

Check out the links and resources section to find additional invention information such as Inspiring Invention, which leads to a variety of fun sites for kids. Don’t miss Science & Invention News.

And if this site sparks a new idea, keep in mind the advice of Alfred North Whitehead who said, “The vitality of thought is in adventure. Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.

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