Where Do New Ideas Come From?

Coffee & IdeasIt seems strange in a world seemingly full or new products and innovations that people can be devoid of ideas. Ideas of how to get something done, new products, how to respond to a change in customer expectations or competition. Maybe the very abundance of online stimuli from around the globe is hindering people’s thought processes? After all, someone else in our global population of over 8 billion must have created something that we can find on the web. Or maybe not.

Ideas from external stimuli

I’m a great believer in using external stimuli as prompts for sparking off new thoughts and ideas. Ideas that may or may not come to something tangible in the end. The web certainly allows us to wander (hopefully not aimlessly) and pick up things that start us thinking in a new direction. Where we can fall down though is by forever focusing on the same old websites, blogs, tweeters etc. that we have always done. To give ourselves a chance of coming up with something new we need to have a new and completely different stimulus.

The same goes for offline, also known as real life, stimuli. Disconnecting from our digital world for a few hours, longer if you can manage it, and observing what’s around is a fantastic way to spark new thoughts and ideas. When I do this I use a notebook to jot things down – a real paper one that you can doodle in (still much easier than any app I’d say).

People watching

It could be just me but I find watching people interacting with each other absolutely fascinating. Talking with a barista while ordering coffees, conversations at busy train stations or discussions at meetings and conferences. Even if you can’t hear what’s being said you get a pretty good idea of the relationships involved and can probably make a reasonable guess at the subject of the conversation.

So how does watching how people interact relate to coming up with new and different ideas? Well, for me, it’s about building a better understanding of how people relate to each other and further developing my own personal coaching expertise. That in itself generates a myriad of thoughts about how I might interpret different situations when working with clients. They are the obvious ideas that are relevant to me.

The less obvious ones might be about how a coffee shop might be better arranged, how the environment at a train station can be improved for a better customer experience or how meetings should be managed better. Not directly relevant to what I do right now but who knows where these diverse ideas might lead. That’s how innovation comes about isn’t it?

So if you’re getting stuck when you think you need to come up with some new ideas use the web to help spark new thoughts, observe what’s happening around you and how people interact with each other. Watch closely, think about what you are seeing and let your mind wander and come up with as many ideas as you can. Don’t ignore any of them, you never know when they’ll come in useful.

Another thing I do when searching for new ideas is to think about what annoys or bugs me. Maybe that can be the subject of another post.

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© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2014.

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