Ideation 101: How to Engineer an Idea

I’m not a creative guy. Many are far more expressive, imaginative and original. To those people, ideas come naturally – they just appear out of thin air. Not for me. And not for most. But don’t worry, there’s hope!

My best subject in school was Math. I see the world in variables and treat every problem as an algebra equation. 2x = 4, so x=2, correct? Find the common denominator and you discover the path to your solution. Putting two and two together. Straightforward.

So it is with the birth of new ideas. Bring two concepts together, find the common denominator between them, and discover inspiration for your new idea. Birthing an idea is a lot like birthing a child – it takes (at least) two parents to tango. The gene pool of one merges with the gene pool of the other and a derivative, yet completely unique person is born. Two merged cells evolve into a very complex organism. Two merged concepts can evolve into a very complex idea.

Try this exercise:

Step 1.  Pick your least favorite subject in grade school.

Step 2.  Pick a hobby you enjoy.

Step 3.  Put them together. Be inspired.

I did not enjoy history and enjoy dining out. Together: history dining? Now that’s a fun idea – a timepiece dining experience? Your server as your historical tour guide? A several course meal tracking the evolution of a dish through time? I could go on!

The trick is not finding root inspiration – we all have interests and disinterests, the world around us. The trick is accepting two different ideas can relate to each other – and identifying how they relate. The more dissimilar and specific the parent ideas are, the more difficult the connection becomes – and the more unique the new idea can be! Stick with it, keep analyzing. You will strike gold. With enough practice, the association between two random ideas becomes virtually automatic.  

The practical application of your newborn idea is the hard part. Ideation 201 anybody?

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