Brainstorms can just happen, but most inventive thinking results from hard work and practice - plus having the confidence to see it through.
By WINSTON FLETCHER, chairman of Bozell UK; his latest book, Advertising Advertising, is published by Profile, £16.99.
Here's an idea for starters. Let's begin at the end. Let's begin with what happens when you've had a good idea or three, and seek acceptance.
The most essential quality you'll need is confidence. Modesty and humility are charming characteristics, but when you need to convince other people your new idea is the greatest since sliced granary, forget 'em.
New ideas have to fight for their life. There is never any shortage of people who, either for personal reasons or because they have as much imagination as hibernating hedgehogs, are ready to strangle new ideas at birth. So, if you don't have confidence in your ideas - if you won't have the courage to fight for them - reading this article will be a waste of your time.
You might as well go fiddle with some spreadsheets.
The more confident you are about your ideas, the more ideas you will have. It is as though the creative part of the brain, principally the right side, gets to learn that if it goes to the trouble of having ideas, you'll fight for them. Or it gets to learn that there is no point in working hard to have ideas, then seeing nothing come of them. For make no mistake - having good ideas is hard work.
Very occasionally good ideas come out of the blue, seemingly without effort. But that is very rare. As highly creative people throughout history have emphasised, creativity demands effort. Thomas Edison, one of the most inventive men of all time, famously said: 'Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.' When Sir Isaac Newton, probably the foremost creative mathematician, was asked how he made his great discoveries, he replied: 'By thinking about them.' He had been worrying about gravity for years before he saw the apple fall.
If you are ready to make the effort, and you have the confidence, here are some ideas that will make you better at having ideas:
1) How would someone else? Try to view a problem, the way a novelist would, through the eyes of other people. Choose people whom you know and respect. Imagine what they would feel, think and say. Often this will help you create an utterly new perspective.
2) Imagination activation. Think of a commonplace, simple object - a matchstick, say, or a paper clip - and then invent, in 10 minutes, as many uses for it as you can, which are not wholly unrealistic. It's best to play this competitively with colleagues, which really gets the inventive juices flowing. A fashionable variant is to invent unlikely new products for designer labels. How about Armani bicycle clips or Gucci loo paper?
3) Keep an ideas box. Leo Burnett, the advertising genius who invented the Marlboro cowboy and many other famous campaigns, stimulated his creativity by keeping an ideas box. Into it he stuffed, randomly, any article or picture that struck him with its originality and which he guessed might one day prove useful. Whenever he was stuck for an idea, he rifled through his box and often found the idea he needed.
4) Think small. Many managers labour in vain to have earth-shaking (or at least organisation-quaking) ideas, and so fail to come up with the small but brilliant squibs by which most progress is made. You may not be Newton, Edison or Henry Ford, and may never revolutionise mankind's existence, let alone the motor industry, but if you can think of how to simplify a sales order form, your labour might not be in vain.
5) Bisociation. The writer Arthur Koestler, in his book The Act of Creation (which is well worth reading on this subject), describes the process of creativity as 'bisociation' - putting together totally unconnected facts or thoughts to form a single new idea. The best way to learn bisociative thinking is by making word chains. Pick a word ... any word. Then rapidly think of another word which is associated with it in your mind. Don't look for logical connections. You should be able to train yourself to do at least 50 words in five minutes. Then you'll probably need a brief rest - it is surprisingly exhausting - before starting again.
6) Pillow thoughts. Instead of counting sheep or reading yourself to sleep, allow your brain to meander casually over any knotty problem you've been worrying about - and the solution may well emerge from your subconscious the next day.
Successful ideas are hard to come by. If they weren't, this article would be unnecessary and we would doubtless all be millionaires. Apart from lack of confidence, the force that fights hardest against new ideas is mental fatigue. Maybe you've been searching for a solution to a problem for weeks but it hasn't materialised and time is running out. So you'll have to do things the old way.
It's a hurdle we all fail to jump from time to time. All that can be said is that you must hold off the cliche solution to the very last. Those who always take the easy option, and many people do, risk losing the use of the right side of their brains. In my view, taking that risk shows they're not in their right mind.