Think + Do » an exploration of nonprofit marketing and design

Gathering Good Ideas

Too often people approach a problem with the mindset that there is only one correct answer. A lot of time can be spent thinking – or procrastinating – with the hope that the answer will come in a bolt of lightning.

Effective marketing requires a steady, reliable flow of fresh thinking. And, as Linus Pauling, the Nobel prize-winning chemist once said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” The following suggestions should help you come up with more ideas.

Let ideas flow freely.
Turn off your internal editor. Give yourself permission to write down or say anything, even if the ideas don’t seem to fit. As this illustration shows, your mind is at its problem-solving best when it‘s free to wander. Computers can provide logical explanations for a problem, but your brain is much more flexible.

Stepping away from your computer is another good way to loosen up your thinking. Embrace pen and paper. If you’re not a designer, “sketch” with words. And don’t try to refine your ideas as you generate them.

Make connections.
OK, you’ve generated some ideas. Now consider the ones that seem least relevant to the original problem. Is there a kernel of truth in your counterintuitive thoughts? Does an unexpected concept spark a new direction? What may seem “wrong” at first, may be exactly right when viewed from a new perspective. Original ideas often come from finding connections that other have not seen before.

Ask lots of questions.
Take the time to gather thoughts, not jump to conclusions. The quality of your solution is directly related to the questions you ask.

  • How has this problem been solved before?
  • Could it be solved differently?
  • What additional information would be helpful?
  • Which project parameters are most flexible?

Sometimes, by looking outside your own field of expertise, a creative solution from a different industry can be retrofitted to your problem – or suggest even more questions!

Let your ideas incubate.
Ever been working on a problem only to have an idea suddenly hit you while mowing the lawn or doing the dishes? That’s because after you’ve provided the food, your brain keeps digesting it long after you’ve moved on to other activities. Whenever you’re trying to generate new ideas, give yourself time to let the subconscious mind go to work for you.

Generating ideas should not be a frustrating or scary process. By challenging yourself to try new techniques, you can “think big” even on small problems. And, with practice, you can become known as a reliable problem solver.

– Claire Napier

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