How To Become An Idea Machine

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Where do ideas come from?

If there were a magic formula or a way to both track and ensure that an idea makes it through your synapses into the real world, there would be gold in them there hills. What makes human life so fascinating (at least to me), is how some people come up with so many grand and clever ideas. It can be something creative that you find on Etsy or Fab or a new project on Kickstarter or Quirky. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t consistently and constantly see new and fascinating ideas in places like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even LinkedIn. Just yesterday, Jay Baer over at Convince And Convert wrote a blog post titled, 26 Truths About Me and Convince and Convert. It’s a simple Social FAQ about how he does things… and why he does things. It’s the type of content you probably won’t find anywhere else in the world and, in short, it’s a good idea. It made me smile. The best ideas make you smile.

The Icarus Deception.

This morning, Seth Godin‘s latest book, The Icarus Deception, arrived on my Kindle app. I’m about ten percent through it, and I’m already stacked with notes and ideas for everything from projects for clients, to new blog posts, to new book ideas. I love ideas. I love tracking my ideas, and as 2012 comes to a close, most people are thinking about the year that was or thinking about their resolutions for the coming year. I’m not one for resolutions and I’m not one for too much reflection. What I’m looking for (more and more) are better (and bigger) ideas. So, how about you? Are you an idea machine or someone wandering around, aimlessly, hoping an idea cracks out of the lightening?

Two steps to making ideas happen:

It’s more complex than two steps (who am I trying to kid?), but here is a very simple and easy way to stimulate yourself and bring ideas out in a flurry. While, it’s only two steps, they require hard work and determination in terms of changing your habits and how you think about whatever it is that you’re consuming. Ready? Let’s roll…    

  1. Exposure. I’ve been watching documentaries on architecture. I have no idea why. I am fascinated with cities and urban environments, but I suddenly find myself fascinated with the people who dream up spaces for us to live in, work at and admire. And, for some even stranger reason, these types of movies have given me lots of ideas for the work we’re doing at Twist Image and how marketing is changing business. In thinking about true sparks for new ideas, it’s important to expose yourself to areas that lie outside of your comfort zone. For some, this can be as simple as listening to classical music if you’re a metalhead and for others, this could mean visiting a place that you would have never considered going to. Exposure to new, different and strange (to you) things will – without question – stimulate a whole bunch of new ideas. 
  2. Why? Why is something (anything) the way that it is? Why did that person write that blog post? Why do I think that this news item is correct? Why do I think that it’s wrong? Why do I do things differently? Simon Sinek wrote an excellent book called, Start With Why, that looks at this question from a business and strategic imperative. I’m going to urge you to read this book (if you haven’t), but I’m also going to ask you to do this one simple task: every time you read something (it could be a book, a newspaper article, a blog post, a tweet), if it made you smile, if you liked it, if it pissed you off, ask yourself, "why?" Start writing down (in simple notes) your side, your perspective, how you would improve upon it… and more. There’s a reason that I blog so much (write columns, speak and publish books)… I am constantly finding myself looking at something, asking myself why and then doing something about it. If you think there is a lot of content in each and every blog post, you should see the list of blog post ideas that never see the light of day or the ideas that always don’t make it into a final blog post, article, book chapter, client idea at Twist Image or whatever.

Then what?

Ideas are great, but then you have to do something about it. The chasm between having a new idea and actually doing something about it is massive. Most people give up before they begin (by either talking themselves out of it or by allowing somebody else to). Beat this notion up. Don’t die with your ideas in a notebook (or worse, in your head). Go ahead and grab a copy of the book, Accidental Genius by Mark Levy. Levy is often referred to as the business book whisperer, and I happen to think that the exercises he provides in Accidental Genius will change your life (you can also listen to my conversation with Levy right here: SPOS #221 – Unlocking Creativity And Your Accidental Genius With Mark Levy). His simple process of creating lists and making notes through freewriting will change the way that you create and shape your ideas.

2013… going forward.

We all want the same things: less weight, more money, better relationships, happier work environments. I believe (and feel free to challenge me on this), that resolutions don’t happen because people make a plan. The resolutions that get done happen because individuals generate new and interesting ideas around how to turn them into a reality. All of us will be looking at a very different business landscape in 2013, my instinct is that ideas win in a day and age where almost everything has become some kind of commodity. If you’re not generating better ideas by exposing yourself to interesting new things that were traditionally foreign to you, asking yourself why more often than ever before, and then actually doing something with that idea (do what Mark Levy tells you to do), this year will be a repetition of the last one. We all know that we don’t want this.

So, Happy New Year! Here’s to 2013… a year filled with new ideas!


  1. I agree that resultions happen because people take action and in many cases, different actions than in the past. I also think that many people will read this and see the word “idea” and it becomes IDEA (bold, shouting capitals). They think an idea needs be something big, creative, and almost world changing.
    I find that asking why about almost everything is important. Not every day about everything, but at some point, checking what you do at home and work and asking ‘why’. Apply it to small daily tasks that you do, and find out if there is a need to do that task. For example, I did that recently at work and realized that something I did every day no longer needs to happen because of another change that happened. It was a small task – maybe 15 minutes a day at most but the ‘why am I doing this’ led to change, and gained me about an hour a week, so I now have more time.
    I also did this several years ago with the concept of needing a gym membership. I realized that not only did I not need that ‘place’ to keep fit, I tended to only work out if I had time to go to the gym. I now work out at home with a ball, a BOSU, and free weights. I also use the stairs in my building for cardio (I live in a 12 floor building with three levels of underground parking) so 45 minutes of that is a pretty decent workout. That gained me more money (because I spent less) and I work out more because I no longer associate working out with a place.
    In other words, by asking why and looking at small things, we can stop living and working by habit and get more of those things we want.
    Happy New Year to you too Mitch. Best wishes for 2013.

  2. Hey Mitch,
    Thanks again for all your great work in 2012. I’m looking forward to your book in 2013. The free writing conversation from a couple years ago is one of my favorite podcasts.
    I believe people think if they keep active all the time great ideas will come to them. They may. But to really come up with good ideas. I say stop.
    Just sit. You may go crazy, but so will your mind. I do this often and I do take notes. My activity time is designed to fulfill and test my new ideas.
    I fail a lot, but those gems lead to some incredible opportunities.
    Be well in 2013.

  3. This is a great piece! You might also have interest in checking out Bill Fischer and “The Idea Hunter” if you’re not already familiar with his work.

  4. I’m so glad I found your post today. This year I’ve resolved to be more decisive in my own writing. Asking “why?” will help fuel that process.
    The Icarus Deception is the next book on my reading list, right after I finish Brogan and Smith’s The Impact Equation – which I’m enjoying immensely!
    Thank you again for your thoughtful post.

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