I’ve had my share of uninspiring ideas over the years, but I’ve also had a number of keepers—like the Windows Start Menu and Taskbar, which have endured far longer than I ever imagined in 1993.
Based on what’s worked for me, I think I can help you come up with better ideas. Here are five tactics that may increase your chances of success:
1. Study a different field.
Let’s say you’re trying to improve the experience of hospital patients. Sure, you should spend time in hospitals and see what goes on. But I’d suggest that you study some other field, and use that different perspective as a starting point for innovation. For example, I bet that hanging out at a Ritz-Carlton and learning about high-end hotels would give you plenty of food for thought.
2. Aim for quantity.
If you’re like me, the first few ideas you have will be conventional and unimaginative. Too many people stop there. Don’t make that mistake. Force yourself to keep going. You might need to produce ten middling ideas before you’ll be in position to come up with a promising one.
3. Delay discussing your ideas.
Bouncing ideas off other people can be helpful, but in my experience, it’s best to wait a little while before doing that. New ideas are fragile, and even the most well-intentioned feedback can be harmful. Take a day or so to consider what you’ve come up with before you involve anyone else.
4. Do something else.
Work hard on your project, then put it aside. You need to recharge your mental reserves. And while you do other things—in particular, mindless activities like showering or walking—you may find that ideas occur to you unexpectedly. Just the way that computers have background processes, we seem to have unconscious thought processes that continue after we’ve stopped paying attention.
5. Get started with an average idea.
Don’t hold out too long for an astounding idea. Those are rare. Instead, once you’ve come up with a decent idea, figure out a way to get started quickly. Make a rough prototype or write a first draft, then put it in front of an audience. By moving ahead with an average idea, you may find that a great idea occurs to you along the way.