4 ways to generate ideas fast

Stumped? Clock ticking? Read on.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 21 Sep 2017

Creativity is a very 21st century virtue. Relying on your skills as a technician doesn’t seem like a very good idea in the nascent age of AI, regardless of your field. But being able to generate innovative and imaginative ideas can mark you out as a star, a shining goose laying golden eggs.

They don’t have to be big ideas, but they do sometimes have to be fast. There’s a certain bias towards people who can perform on the spot, beginning with school exams, through job interviews, all the way through to business meetings. The capability of responding to an immediate challenge (or opportunity) with clear, blue-sky thinking is great for your reputation and your job prospects. 

The great thing about fast ideas is that they don’t have to be great. They just have to appear promising to people who have very little time to assess them, and who are often wracking their brains for something fresh themselves.

This isn’t to say that they can’t be great – think of all those rock and pop classics that were written in half-hour on the tour bus – but it does mean you can forgive yourself if they’re somewhat half-baked.

Enough of the intro anyway – you’re in a rush, and you need some tips.

1. Borrow from something totally different

There is no such thing as an original idea, but there are original combinations of ideas. You see it in film descriptions all the time, where x meets y (in one word: Sharknado).

Jot down a dozen ideas, innovations or successes that particularly impress you. They can be from any sector or situation apart from your own. In fact, the further from your own, the better. Now think, how would that look when applied to your situation or sector? They may not come to anything, but at the very least they’ll get you thinking outside the box.

2. Be Silly

Perfectionism inevitably leads to the dreaded blank page. To break your duck, liberate your inner silliness. A new cost saving measure? Custard. Ideas for a marketing campaign? Transcendental meditation. Whatever. All you need is to get things flowing. Eventually, you’ll find something that might just be realistic. (Don’t say any of the stupid ones out loud, obviously.)

3. Join the bandwagon

Still stuck? Don’t despair. If your colleague (it won’t work on your boss) has a great idea, you can always latch onto theirs. Reiterate what they’ve said in different words. Ideally elaborate on it, or raise the challenges and the opportunities it presents. It will make it a team effort, or at least appear like one...

4. Keep a pocket book

You don’t have to tell your boss your great ideas as soon as you get them. Timing can be important, so make sure you always have a few as back-ups, in case you’re put on the spot. Then it can appear off the cuff.

You can improve your odds of having ideas in general – and therefore on hand – by making creativity a habit. Think of times when you have felt particularly creative. If you were on the bus, take more bus rides. If you always get pumped after client meetings, then spend a little time after such meetings scrawling ideas in a notepad. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself the opportunity to be creative, and eventually it will bear dividends.

Image credit: Erik Fitzpatrick/Flickr

Read next: How to blag your way through meetings


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