How to Find Great Ideas in Thin Air

Do you know where I find my very best ideas? Yes, I talk to many extremely accomplished people, read quite a bit, and am disciplined about pursuing interesting topics. But - if I'm going to tell you the truth - I find my best ideas in thin air.

They materialize out of nowhere. They come to me in the shower, when I'm climbing a mountain, and when I'm driving on the highway.

You may think I'm lucky, or that I'm naturally talented at thinking up good ideas. Nope, that's not my secret. This is:

Instead of looking for ideas, I ask them to find me.

This may sound nuts, but it works.

At the top of the mountain, I don't just stare off at the horizon. I ask for inspiration, then clear my mind.

As you might imagine, there is a catch...

Once I ask for inspiration, I have to make room for it. This only works if I stop talking, thinking, and otherwise being preoccupied. It only works if I abandon any sort of time restriction.

For example, here's what doesn't work. "For the next five minutes, I'm inviting new ideas to find me."

Ask. Be quiet. Don't set a deadline. Be open.

Then there's one more ultra-important step: remember what comes to mind. Don't be the person who got the idea for the Great American Novel but forgot to write it down.

From product development to startup ideas...

I've used this approach for decades. It works with consulting, training, product development, startup innovation, and even writing articles. 

But let's not oversell. You can't dream up a new product in the shower and bring it to market the next day. Once you unearth the idea, then you have to study it, refine it, and enlist the help of others.

But none of this would be possible without your original inspiration. And for me, that often comes from simply inviting such inspiration.

There are countless scientific - and non-scientific - arguments for and against what I'm saying here. Some may say that by opening myself up to new ideas, I'm giving my subconscious mind room to process all my research and interactions. Others may say that the universe is bringing me ideas, simply because I asked.

A friend in the movie business says both notions are ridiculous; he argues that when the best ideas form, they float in the air and you have to spot them first. Granted, he is not a completely reliable or mainstream source; he starts planning his Christmas vacation on December 24, and won't visit me in Connecticut because we lack valet parking.

No matter. When you invite good ideas to find you, and you take the time to listen, they actually will appear. 

Bruce Kasanoff ghostwrites articles for a wide range of business professionals. He also speaks at meetings and events about Your Career Needs Four Engines.