Where I Find My Creative Ideas

At conferences and workshops people often ask me where my ideas come from.  I’m no genius of course, but since I write books, speak at conferences, create media projects, and consult with clients on creative issues, I can’t afford to recycle the same old stuff. In a distracted and cluttered world, great ideas are harder and harder to come by, so if you’re struggling, perhaps some of my creative habits will help. Here’s a partial list of things that help jack up the quality of my ideas:

1) Know what’s happening in the world.   I use three sources. First – the Wall Street Journal. I think it’s the best newspaper in America, and reading the Saturday “Review” section is the best part of my week. I also like to scan a local paper in the city I’m traveling in, to get ideas for connecting with local issues.  Then, I use the “Feedly” reader. It’s a fantastic newsreader that allows me to scan a wide range of news, creative, writing, religion, and other sources each day. You don’t have to be a “news junky,” but you need to know the pressing issues happening around you.

2) Don’t watch TV in the morning.   A few years ago, I started turning off the TV when I was getting dressed, and was amazed at the ideas that started flowing when I wasn’t being distracted by the television.

3) Don’t be afraid of boredom.   Looking back over the best ideas I’ve had in my career, I realized that most of them happened when I was bored out of my mind. But most of us carry a little “Boredom Fixer” called a mobile device. We pull it out and check messages or text friends when boredom strikes. Stop it. Embrace boredom. Let your mind wander.  Actively search for moments of solitude.

4) Know what time and where your ideas happen.   Everyone has a daily energy cycle and we operate best at certain times. Know your creative time and start protecting it. The same is true with locations. I discovered I have to be totally isolated – no windows, no music, no TV, no distractions. Whatever or wherever that is for you, use it to your advantage.

5) Write it down.   Ideas may be the most fragile things in the world. If you don’t capture them, they’ll disappear. I carry a small Moleskin notebook in my pocket, a larger one in my briefcase, and 2 or 3 note-taking apps on my iPhone. The truth is, you’re already having great ideas, but if you’re not writing them down, they’re simply being forgotten.

There are other things, but this is probably my best ways to get inspired. Are there any that work for you that aren’t on this list?

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  1. Thanks for the great ideas, Phil. I especially resonate with “write it down” – I’ve learned that one the hard way! In terms of where ideas come from, mine come when I’m driving or taking a walk. There’s something about physical movement that seems to prompt inner movement.

  2. Ideas are all around us in plain sight, we just need to train ourselves to see them. For me, Creativity is all about CONNECTING the DOTS.

    LOOK for NEEDS and SEE them as Opportunities.

    LOOK for IDEAS and SEE them as RESOURCES.

    When we connect the dots between Needs and Ideas, Opportunities and Resources, we have CREATIVITY!!!

  3. When I’m stuck, I go back and fully develop what I already know is a bad idea. Analyzing the idea, and seeing clearly why it fails, gives me a knew perspective and often leads to useful discoveries by highlighting the problems I haven’t solved..

  4. Great suggestions. For note taking, I have started to use an app on my phone -Email Me. There is a free version. I will jot down whatever hits me and it sends me an email to refer to later.

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