The most valuable thing in the world is a good idea.
Sometimes we think up something fantastic and find out it’s already been done and feel discouraged. But so what? Now we know we can think of really good ideas.
Many years before Apple invented the iPod and before the internet was commonplace, I thought of MP3 players.
I didn’t think of portable ones, though, so my idea would have never worked. But I did think of a large stereo amplifier where you could buy songs and they would be stored there (just in that one place!) like a jukebox. Essentially, a really crappy version of iTunes.
I always liked that something I thought up one day became an awesome thing. I like the real version so much better than my idea, so I’m glad Steve Jobs was on the case.
I’m getting obsessed with idea generation. As someone who works in marketing, writes stories and aspires to write books, I can’t think of a skill I’d rather have than the ability to generate solid, actionable ideas anytime I want or need to.
My favorite writer James Altucher has been writing about this over and over and over again. He writes down 10 ideas every day. For what? For whatever. Anything. Everything.
Ten ways to improve a cable company’s customer service.
Ten ways I could lose weight.
Ten ideas for getting a better night’s sleep.
Ten things for which to feel grateful.
Ten local businesses I could help with my skillset and knowledge base.
Ten places I can visit this year.
Ten people I could introduce to one another for business or social reasons.
Ten things I could do today to have more fun and feel happy.
There is no subject too big or too small. The reason Altucher writes down 10 ideas a day is to exercise what he calls the Idea Muscle. He insists whatever parts of our brain (I’m not a neurologist) are responsible for idea generation can be flexed and pushed and strengthened through repetitious exercise.
I believe him.
But, It’s Too Hard
My son says that about tying his shoes or reading advanced books or accurately throwing a frisbee or about any number of things he’s still learning how to do. He’s 6.
I know what he means.
There are so many things I used to be terrible at doing, but now I’m really good because I’ve done them thousands of times.
I still forget that lesson even though I’m 36 and am supposed to be an adult now.
I couldn’t write 10 ideas every day because when I have a million things to choose from I can never make a choice.
I do much better with prompts or with parameters. Constraints, if you will. Creative constraints are a valuable thing, and Twitter and it’s 140-character limit is probably the best modern-day example of it.
I would talk about this 10-idea-a-day concept with friends and associates. But I never really had any personal experience to back it up because I found it so difficult to do.
But then me and a couple partners started a side business, and one of the first things we do with prospective clients is thoroughly go over their business and come up with a list of 10 things we think we could do to improve it. It’s a fantastic exercise, and I’m pretty good at it.
My problem isn’t that I’m not capable of generating 10 ideas. I’m actually decent at it. I just have a lot of trouble honing in on specifics. Once I learned the value of artificial constraints on my ability to generate new ideas, the shackles came off. And now I’m getting better.
Enter James Altucher’s wife—Claudia Altucher. She wrote a book recently called “Become an Idea Machine,” based on this very idea. And in the book, she provides 180 idea prompts because if you come up with 10 ideas every day for 180 days, you will be an idea machine, she writes—someone capable of brainstorming viable, actionable ideas for any problem you might face.
I can’t think of one thing I’d rather be good at than the ability to come up with creative solutions on demand—in business meetings, in helping my son learn to think and problem-solve, in my personal life to help others and myself.
I’ve been writing 10 ideas a day based on Claudia Altucher’s prompts. Ten online courses (with curriculum) that I’d like to take. Ten mobile apps that would improve my life. Ten things that would improve commercial airline travel. Ten new recipes.
The point isn’t necessarily to generate phenomenal ideas (though you might!).
The point is simply to exercise the muscle. To get better at the part where you come up with creative solutions to problems.
At work. At home. In your social life. In your spiritual life. Financially. Physically. Et cetera.
The first few ideas are always easy. Then it gets hard and you make your mind sweat a little. That’s when the growth happens.
At some point, I’m pretty sure the prompts will ask me to come up with 10 new ideas by combining ideas that have already been thought of.
Someone who reads this blog wrote me. They’re sad. And they feel stuck. And I don’t want them to feel stuck.
And they don’t have to.
There are 10 groups or clubs or gyms or hobbies or classes they could join today to learn a new skill and meet new people.
There are 10 new careers they could pursue.
There are 10 things they could do that might make a spouse or partner feel more loved and appreciated.
There are 10 things they know more about than most people and could write books or make videos or teach an online course about.
There are 10 ways to laugh more.
There are 10 people to call or email or text RIGHT now because you love them and they need to know in case someone doesn’t wake up tomorrow or the world ends.
There are 10 people to hug. And 10 people to help. And 10 people to forgive.
There are always 10 things you can do this week, and tomorrow, and later tonight, and right now.
Things that might change the whole world. Or things that might only change you.
Sometimes, there isn’t any difference.