Cultivating Good Ideas

I started this blog 153 weeks ago with the goal of consistently posting one entry per week.  So far, I haven’t missed a week yet!  What’s amazed me most about this journey is how every week I find a new idea to write about.

I like to post my entries on Saturday, but on Sunday, 6 days prior to posting, I usually have no idea what I’m going to write about.  It isn’t until I start going through my weekly routines of reading, having conversations with people, and listening to positive content that an idea for a topic pops into my mind.  These ideas burst onto the stage of my mind without any warning.  It’s an amazing process that I’ve really enjoyed over the past 153 weeks.

Ideas don’t just happen.  Whether it’s ideas for writing, planning, or myriad other forms of creation, I think there are certain disciplines we can practice to greatly increase our likelihood of coming up with good ideas.  Those disciplines include the following:

Expect that you can and will come up with good ideas

Henry Ford stated it well when he said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Pay attention how you talk to yourself regarding your ability to come up with ideas.  Instead of telling yourself you’re not good at coming up with ideas, change the internal dialog and state how capable you are of coming up with not just one, but several good ideas.

Consume positive content

Positive content, in the form of conversations, reading, podcasts, or any other method, is the fertilizer that helps grow new thoughts and ideas.  Your ideas will come out of whatever you have been putting into your mind, so be mindful of what you’re allowing in.

Set a deadline to come up with good ideas

For me, I imposed an artificial deadline of generating a blog post every week.  This created a sense of urgency that forced me to generate an idea.  So far it’s worked out well.

Practice cultivating good ideas

Every day, write down 10 good ideas on any topic.  It can be anything from ideas for generating extra money to titles for a make-believe TV show.  The objet here is to just get in the practice of generating ideas.  The more we do it, the better we can become at coming up with ideas.  James Altucher says that this is how you stretch your “idea muscle” and become and “idea machine”.

Set yourself up to be a generator of good ideas by following the steps above, or share some of your own ideas for generating ideas in the comments below.

Ideas are the starting point of all new adventures.  If you want to have a more adventurous life, you only need to start having more ideas.

5 Steps to Making Improvements

It’s easy to decide to change.   The challenging part is actually taking action.

Sometimes we want to take action, but we’re immobilized because we don’t know where to start or what the next step is that we should be taking.  Below are some steps I’ve taken at work this year to change my contribution so I could start using the talents and skills I possess to better serve my customers and have a more fulfilling work experience.  These steps have worked well for me, so I thought I’d share them with the readers of this blog, in hopes they will do the same for you.

Step 1.  Identify what skills you have that you want to develop and use more, and begin improving your knowledge in this area.

For me, this was in the area of data visualization.  I enjoy turning data into useful interactive information that helps business people make better decisions.  Therefore, I began reading and learning about best practices and techniques to do this well.

Keep in mind that the process of building your skills and increasing your knowledge is an ongoing process of learning.  As you move through the other steps, you’ll continually be coming back to this step.

Step 2.  Identify a need that your skills can fill or a problem they can solve.

Here is where you begin looking for opportunities where you can apply your skills to solve a real problem.  For me, this was in the area of displaying our operational data in a visual format that was clear and easy for business people to access and understand.

Step 3.  Begin applying your skills to create a solution to the problem you’ve identified.

This is where your knowledge gets stretched and where you rapidly grow your experience and begin to master the skills you’re applying.  Once you start applying your skills, you realize, there’s a lot you don’t know, so you learn as you go.

I dove right in and started using a tool called QlikView to build applications that displays our data in a clear interactive format that would give people a view of our business, through operational data, that they’ve never had before.  I often refered to books, the Internet, or other colleagues for information and insight in order to solve the numerous problems I encountered.

Step 4.  Share your initial solution with others and get their input. Make changes based on the input you receive and then present those changes back to them.

Once I had an application built, I showed it to the business users.  While they liked what they initially saw, they had suggestions of what they really would also like to see that I hadn’t included.  I went back, made those changes, along with some others that were sparked during our conversations.

This is an iterative process.  Continue until your solution is complete.

Step 5.  Go back to step 1 or 2 and repeat the process.

Once I had created a solution for one area of our business, I looked at other areas that would benefit from similar measurement and visualization tools and repeated the process as described above.

This has been a great year for me at work, as I feel I’m making real contributions that are positively impacting my organization and helping people get more clear answers than they’ve ever had before.

If there’s an area in your life, be it professional or personal, that you want to make a change, try employing the steps listed above.  They provide a flexible guideline that will create order and direction.

The only thing required from us is action.