We all forget things often and risk losing good ideas. As soon as a brilliant idea comes to you, there are two things you can do to preserve it. First, you can record it – in writing, picture, drawing or video – and put it in a place where you will never lose it. The alternative, I’m afraid, is to let the idea linger in mental space and see if it can stand the test of time. The best ideas are not easily forgotten and won’t leave you alone. If you truly want to test the relative strength your idea, see whether you forget it after a while. If you fail to write it down and never forget it, chances are pretty good that your idea counts for something and isn’t going to run away from you.
Writer’s block is a very difficult dragon to slay. Bad ideas are better than nothing – at least you are coming up with ideas at all. A pile of bad ideas can still be useful. Never kill a bad idea prematurely. Let it run its course, in tandem with other bad ideas. Bad ideas can overlap and form alliances. Enough bad ideas can inspire a good one. Keep your mind open. Let the ideas flow. Analyze and annotate without surgery or criticism. Brainstorm until you can brainstorm no more. Then dig the gem out from underneath the rubble.
Balance between input and output is key. Lately, consumption is easier than ever. Distractions run amuck. But the tools are easier than ever, too. Save for more distractions, you have no excuse to procrastinate your work and talent. If you’re not creating, you’re consuming. You’re not giving back to the world and people in it who give you so much. You’re living a selfish relationship with life. Good luck leaving a legacy. No thank you.
Write. Paint. Speak. Raise children. Build things. Get your hands dirty. Give back to the world and the people you care about. Make a difference. Don’t sit still. Don’t wait and watch. Don’t only take in – put out (no innuendo intended). Try not to concern yourself with turning your creation into your business – if you create well enough, the business will come. Focus on building great things and gifting them to all. It’s good for the soul (and can’t hurt your legacy).
Dreams remain fantasies until you write them down. On paper, a dream transforms into a plan. With a plan, you can see it as you do your own to-do list. Others can see it as well and jump on board. Pitch your plan. Wear it on a t-shirt. Share it with everyone. After all, someone might want to help you. You may even start to believe that it’s more than just a dream.
Take your dream out of its fantasy box and put it in a place where it can become a reality. Keep calling it a dream and it will always stay that way.
Inspiration comes from many different places. More often than not, it comes from your immediate surroundings or industry. You see or hear something cool that is not quite perfect and needs improvement. You think you can do better. You set off to tell a better story or build a better application. You compete for a variable solution to the same problem. Game changer? Maybe. Life changer? Probably not.
Through the omniscient connectivity of the internet, we all lead fairly informed lives. With all the information available, we tend to react more to what’s outside than what’s inside. Businesses react to the market. Individuals react to circumstances. Inspiration surfs on the wake of trends. What this creates is an iterative marketplace. People spend more time reacting to and interpolating other people’s ideas than reflecting on their own needs or experiences.
Big ideas come from small people facing big problems. We all qualify to tackle big problems if we close our ears and open our minds to draw inspiration from within. Solve large, important human problems – not just little day-to-day problems. Contest the market as-is; strive to create a market of your own. If you can identify immediate competition tackling the same problem, your idea isn’t big enough.
The world has not run out of new ideas. We have stopped asking good questions. We are so inundated by the content we consume that we spend more time processing the things we’re told instead of the things we are not. Einstein and da Vinci did not watch television or facebook five hours per day; they left little-to-no time for distractions, compartmentalized research and focused all energy into exploring the world around them. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that asked deep questions or read a book that made me think. In a postmodern age where we are all hyper-consumers, we spend our energy living and breathing other people’s work instead of creating our own. There’s plenty of new ideas out there: the world is constantly evolving with new challenges and trends. If you ask thorough questions and wrestle with contemporary issues, you will find a goldmine of fresh ideas.
Don’t just sit back and watch. Engage. Ask questions. Then put the book or iPad down for a day to go tango with the world around you.
The second you stop believing in the possibilities and start believing in the rules, you lose. You limit yourself to the things you’ve learned and make it that much more difficult to invent or imagine. Building an understanding of the world through education or otherwise is important to understanding the tools and canvases at your disposal. But growth and the human spirit should not end there. You must actually paint with the tools you’ve learned: break rules, make a mess and see what happens. Push the limits of the canvas. Or, better yet, ignore the boundaries of the canvas altogether. Invention has no boundaries and knows no rules. Sure, embrace the constraints of the tools themselves (budget, materials, people, etc.), for those limitations will focus your mission. Do not, however, embrace the rules of the game if they stand in your way to greatness and innovation.
Christopher Nolan, one of the greatest filmmakers of our time, does not have a cell phone. In an effort to live a focused and productive life, he is vigilant about keeping his personal bubble distraction-free. I’ve advocated for periods of digital silence before, but Mr. Nolan’s approach to creative sanctuary is something else entirely. No outside forces may enter the gates of his life while he is working. That’s a special thing.
We consume so much information every single day: emails, articles, status updates, pictures and video. Since the beginning of the year, I have consumed approximately 2,000 emails, 6,400 tweets, 12,500 articles and god knows how many status updates. Let’s conservatively estimate that I spend an average of 20 seconds per item (an overestimate for tweets; a radical underestimate for email and news). By that average, I spend around 58 hours per month or 12% of my time awake consuming emails, tweets and articles alone. Realistically, I think that number is closer to 35% or 40%. Needless to say, that’s a lot.
The numbers make me sick. I could be spending time creating for and giving back to the world. I can only imagine how much more I could get done if I extinguished those distractions from my life. After adopting the Galaxy Nexus, I am now more connected than ever. I’m starting to feel the water rising to my ears – and I don’t like it. Tonight, I vow to wean myself off consumption as much as possible. I will keep this blog up to date with any tips I discover along the way.
Sometimes that’s all it takes. Get out of town for a few days to clear your mind, reboot or shift perspective. It does not need to be someplace exotic or an expensive vacation far away. Crashing on a local friend’s couch can do the trick. It’s important to shake your routine loose every once in a while. That kind of reorientation can do wonders for your ideas and bring fresh clarity to life’s problems. Mix it up, baby.