How to Generate Great Ideas

Where do ideas come from?

Most of us think that big ideas come from a flash of genius, a stroke of inspiration, or a Eureka moment. After listening to Steven Johnson* speak on TED.com, I see now that it is very different than that.  It’s a “liquid network” that makes the difference.

idea-lightbulbRather than a single light bulb moment, Johnson discusses the liquid network from which ideas come: networks of people with differing backgrounds and different fields of expertise.  He speaks of the vast amount of ideas that have come from the lunch table (e.g. the invention of the GPS) and the coffee shop.

Most ideas are cobbled together and made up of parts or ideas that are stitched together from multiple experiences where the sum is greater than the parts.  Most new ideas come from open dialogue where mistakes, error, and noise in the system are talked about with others.

When it comes to marketing, you could call these good ideas:

  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Pandora Radio

Where did these ideas come from?

Facebook is simply an online community to share experiences with your friends. Pinterest is an electronic form of taking a pair of scissors to a magazine in order to share.  Pandora radio is basically that mix tape of the songs that you like and want to listen to.

Only when integration with others happens does it become a game-changing marketing idea. What could a liquid network at your company help create?

  • Your lead sales person shares his insights with the team and an automated system is developed to nurture leads increasing sales 300% across the system.
  • A forum is opened for dialogue with your customers and you find a new niche that the competition has never found allowing you greater margins and a highly profitable segment.
  • R&D begins networking with others outside of the industry to find new and interesting materials that established your company as the innovative leader allowing you to lead the category.

In the end it is all about creating environments to allow sharing, and that makes good business sense.

*Note: Steven Johnson is the best-selling author of six books on the intersection of science, technology and his own personal experience.