5 ways to just have ideas

light bulb moment

Ideas are difficult. Everyone has some. But not everyone has enough, or enough good ones at least.

Of course, some are better at having ideas than others, but there are ways that you can find to help you actually have ideas in the first place. Some of them involve you creating space for thinking, whereas others rely on you distracting your mind and emptying your head. Both can work equally, but here are my five favourite ways to have ideas. My sure-fire guide to thinking creatively.

Exercise is good for you(r brain)

I have a lot of good ideas at the gym. Others get their best ideas when they are out in the countryside or pounding the city streets for a run. I find the gym boring, but I don’t have anything much on my mind when I am there, apart from times and effort. I usually have music on when I work out, but that is more a background hum than a motivation. It keeps the external sounds out.

Slower forms of exercise can be great for thinking too. Yoga is known for its meditative side, so it is ideal for creating the right atmosphere for thinking. All sorts of thoughts and ideas will slip into your mind as you try holding poses.

Travel broadens the mind

A little travel broadens the mind and it certainly gets you thinking. But, for me, the act of travel is more important for thinking than the destination. Waiting in airport lounges is great for being bored and opening up your thoughts. Similarly, being sat on a train, alone and with no wifi connection, is fantastic for open-minded thinking. I sometimes curse the easily-available wifi or good G4 connections on public transport, as I am prone to being distracted by emails and messages on my phone. So, be bold and switch your phone right off if you can.

Bath time for ideas

Laying in a warm bath is the classic place to have your best thoughts. After all, it is where Archimedes discovered one of the laws of physics. Even visiting the smallest room has become somewhat destroyed as a moment for thinking by our constant use of our smart phones. So, run yourself a bath, splash in the bubble bath and maybe keep a notebook to hand. Just make sure it is not your best Moleskine. You can even buy waterproof notebooks, which will save you trying to punch the passcode into your phone and then dropping it in the bath water.

Chill out

Netflix and chill has become something of a millennial mantra, denoting a do-nothing evening or weekend catching up on box-sets, bingeing on pizza and Better Call Saul or Game of Thrones. But staring at a screen that is not your work laptop can help to free up your mind and the content you are watching may even provide inspiration. I find that playing video games can be great for emptying the portion of the mind that I use for thought. I get to relax and keep a notebook close to hand.

Go Out

For some, a night on the town can result in a notebook full of ideas by the bed in the morning. Drinking, dancing and chatting can release endorphins, take your mind off work and free up your grey matter for thinking deeply. Just make sure you have that notebook to hand if you plan on drinking a lot, or those great ideas will be lost come the morning.

Personally, I have an odd thinking quirk that is very much time-bound. I have some of my best ideas at the cinema or the theatre in that strange limbo time between taking your seat and the action beginning. At the cinema, this can include thinking through the ads. But at the theatre I can achieve a relaxed reverie in the five minutes between taking my seat (notebook in pocket, G&T in hand). All sorts of random thoughts go through my head, with some turning into great ideas that I have used for clients. The bonus is that you get to enjoy the entertainment too.

Ideas from in-house? How does creativity in an office even work?

office view

From time to time, I am offered a job. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe that someone would wish to have me in their office on a full-time, permanent basis. But it happens at least once a month now. It’s getting worrying.

This strange phenomenon happens despite me clearly stating on sites such as LinkedIn that I really do not want a ‘real’ job. The salaries are not bad either. Usually.

But, apart from a pathological hatred of being tied to just one job and to office hours, I really do not see how anyone could get value out of me in a full-time job. To quote someone or other, I tried it once and didn’t like it. I’m not dismissing those who work in offices as such, but I don’t see how great ideas can solely come from in-house.

I have certainly flourished in short-term contracts in other people’s offices, but never with a boss, a contract and an annual season ticket. I am a freelance creative person at heart. I lose interest, I don’t buy in to most workplace cultures and I detest the idea of being subjected to other people’s choice of radio station or music, for life.

Now, this may just be down to my own character, but I truly wonder how any truly creative person can thrive in an office environment for any length of time. How do you have good ideas on the clock? And how do you muster up enthusiasm for the novel when you are three years in and have meetings to attend?

For most jobs, it makes more sense to hire in ideas people and (the best) writers as you need them.

Creators of ideas need to wander about, have a pint at 3pm on a Tuesday, sit by a river, go abroad, compile a best of Bowie playlist, take some pictures and have a day out at the seaside eating chips and playing in penny arcades. Not many employers will put up with that.

We’re flighty, but brilliant.

Our best thinking often happens while our brain and our hands are distracted elsewhere. It doesn’t happen in a meeting room every Tuesday at 10am sharp. It happens in the shower, playing PlayStation, strumming a guitar, at the theatre or strolling around a museum or gallery.

We need distraction, not direction. Though that is not to say that we can’t be inspired by the odd meeting, brainstorm or round table. We still need to bounce ideas around.

But if you put us in an office then we’ll have our best ideas on holiday. After all, you wouldn’t expect to see your favourite novelists sitting in a cubicle from 9-5, or grabbing a Pret sandwich at their desk to impress their boss with their presenteeism.

I would prefer not to.

We’re free range. We need to breathe. We’re often a little odd.

So, don’t fence us in. You’ll get better work, at a lower cost. And we can go to the park.

Hey! That’s my idea!

finger denotes silence

Ideas are nebulous things.

An idea can be useless passing thought, or the route to fame and fortune. Some people place a huge amount of importance on their protection. Whereas other prefer to let them go free.

Less experienced copywriters, authors and journalists will worry about people ‘stealing their ideas’. As if the notion to interview Brad Pitt or a hot take on fidget spinners has only occurred to them. But, shocking as it may be…

There is no copyright in ideas.

Of course, this applies strictly to ideas that have had nothing done with them. So, things that have not become a film, a book, a piece of software or even an article. Your idea for life-size killer robot ponies is stealable until you at least get to work on them or apply for a copyright, patent or trademark. Sucks to be you. Get the monkey wrench and the jodhpurs out.

So, what can you do to protect your ideas?

Well, aside from getting cracking on them, there is nothing that you can do, bar not telling anyone what they are. Your value as someone who has ideas is not in the single potentially great idea you have. It is in both the execution of those ideas and the ability to have a whole lot more. Relax a bit. Not everyone is out to swindle you.

When being interviewed about another project, I once said that my ideal job would be to have someone come around on a Friday and pay me for all the ideas I had been unable to use that week. Now, that has sort of come true. I am happy to sell ideas on in the knowledge that there are hundreds coming up right behind them. Each client inspires new thoughts and new ideas. That is how original thinking works.

If you want to work in sectors that rely on ideas then you have to be confident in selling the ones you have, working up others and knowing you can have more. Intellectual property is hugely valuable, but not until you add value.

So stop worrying and start thinking. Ideas are powerful. But if they sit unused they simply die, their potential untested. Get your ideas out there and move on.

 

That is a terrible idea

thumbs down

Ideas are subjective things. They provoke emotions. Love or hate, usually.

If it’s a maybe then it’s probably not good enough. You really want ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

I like to think that my ideas are great. But some of them are terrible. Those are usually the best ones. It’s subjective, you see. Keep up.

Working in ideas is a strange pastime, but you have to remember that although daring people have hired you, they can become less risk-positive when presenting the results to their boss or to their board.

You can sit and laugh and enthuse about that great, daring idea. But they may phone you afterwards, saying ‘I think we should go with plan B’. It’s hardly an unusual occurrence.

For this reason, my initial consultations on ideas with a new client usually consist of two days of work and one page (or so) of ideas.

It could also result in me calling or emailing before deadline with a time sensitive yes/no idea for them to make a call on. Something that is reactive, but which needs working on and getting out there today. It’s usually a result of my mind working overtimes on ideas for them while reading the papers or listening to the news on the radio.

This work that needs a quick call is often the best/worst. Again, depending upon your opinion.

But it is certainly the sort of work that is most likely to get a reaction from the world at large. I’ve had ideas at lunchtime that were global headlines by teatime. But I have also heard no a lot of times.

We’ll never know how those ideas would have flown. But you can be pretty sure that at least one would have got someone fired. Maybe it could have been you…

 

Please don’t hire me, I don’t give a damn for your mission

worship passion image

Many start-up bosses don’t understand how the world works. How many? A LOT.

As a consultant, I see this all the time. Newly-minted CEOs (or their head of HR) will issue a tender or get in touch with a blurb about their business and what they need. Somewhere up near the top will be the desire for someone who is ‘passionate about our mission’, or words to that effect.

That is usually the point where the conversation ends for me. I could send an email back saying ‘I don’t give a damn about your mission’, but that would just be rude. I just spot the problem and move on. Anyway, I am very polite.

So, what is the problem?

I am sure that this says as much about me as it does about them. After all, it is great that a business owner is passionate about what they do. But expecting that of employees seems odd to me. To expect it of outside consultants or contractors just seems delusional. I’m certainly passionate about what I do, my ideas and my business.

Yes, I’ll think about ideas for your business in the bath or over dinner, but that will stop when the next client comes along and our contract is over. I won’t shed a tear when we part and my job is done. I find an enforced passion for the company to be slightly creepy, like an over-enthused greeter at the entrance of a toy store.

Can’t you even fake some passion for money?

Well, if I was desperate for a ‘proper job’ then maybe I could (and possibly even have in the distant past)  fake some passion. But the last thing that a business needs from an ideas man or thinker, or even a creative employee, is a whole lot of yes.

It is my job to examine current thinking and sometimes tear it apart. I am saying ‘this is missing’ or suggesting improvements. I have to possess the gall to question the CEO’s very vision and push them on towards something better.

I do this well and, for this reason, get on very well with the most Alpha of alpha male bosses (females too, but the gruffest alphas tend to be male). The ones who are sure of themselves. They seem to enjoy this slightly odd guy with a whole load of ideas telling them off. I couldn’t do that with someone who expected me to show passion for their baby.

So, if you want passion, go to Tinder. If you want someone to say ‘yes’ to your ideas, buy a parrot. Just don’t confuse an enthusiasm for your business with an ability to make it better.