To innovate – you must absorb many different sources of information – especially in the areas not in which you are trying to innovate in; let those percolate in your brain, then apply them to your current challenges.
I interviewed a “Purpose Coach,” who had a method to determine a person’s purpose in life in two questions. I won’t tell you the two questions (you’ll have to listen to the show for that), but I will tell you the purpose that resulted: to amaze people. Lest you think I’m going to don a cape and rebrand myself “The Amazing Chris” and amaze you with my legerdemain, we went on to discuss how finding your purpose does not necessarily mean that your whole life will change; it just means that you can use your revealed purpose to better position yourself for the life which works for you.
During that interview, I talked a bit about how I ideate – that I’m a funnel – I absorb information from many different, disparate sources – everything from technology to philosophy, to sociology, to physics, to motivation, to science fiction, to startup tactics, etc., etc. I cast a massive funnel above me, load it up with all sorts of interesting and varied information, and absorb it all. The sources include people, books, audiobooks, YouTube videos, new places, or anything.
I take all of this in, all day, every day, without judgment (as in, I don’t throw anything out as being “wrong” or “weird” or “too out there”) and let it percolate in my head. Then the ideas do flow, either in response to a challenge – or whenever the various elements in my head combine in such a way to spark a new idea. I then write it down and use it.
The thing is that when it comes to ideation, most people think that they can’t do the same thing. Thinking about the future is hard. Good ideas are hard to come by. Building something people want is tough. I can’t come up with any good ideas, people wail.
I think of quality ideation in the same way as a quality product – unless you have a lot of suitable material, you will have a tough time building something new. Imagine your current challenge as creating something new, but you only have old parts of working with.
Since none of us are as adept as Spock in building a tricorder from “stone knives and bearskins,” we need new materials to make something new. If you don’t fill up your funnel with new materials (as new experiences, new learnings, new people, and new places), solving problems with new solutions becomes challenging.
You need to be a funnel – to capture many different and disparate sources into your head – capture new material, and then allow your brain to use that new material to build new neural connections, which will trigger new ideas and fresh thinking.
This is why I highly encourage continuous learning in all areas (especially those in addition to your core skill set) and encourage creating those serendipitous connections that can generate real innovation.