The Formula for Generating Great Ideas

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Great Ideas
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While I was reading How to Get Great Ideas by Estelle H. Ries (1961), it became evident that it was simply a new spin on the information by James Webb Young (Technique for Producing Great Ideas) and Graham Wallas (Creativity Model in Art of Thought, which is an extension of Hermann von Helmholtz‘s model) that we have covered on this blog, but generating great ideas is an important art so it’s worth repeating. To make this process relevant, think about the following or any other pressing need, and use the formula to see where it leads you:

  • Process that needs improving at work
  • Product does not work the way you’d like it to
  • Past ideas that were ahead of their time that could work now
  • Problems that keep recurring
  • Or any pressing issue that you’re facing

Step One: Preparation

  • Choose your topic of  interest from the list above
  • Develop a set of decision criteria to judge the quality of the ideas

There are two types of information to gather:


  1. Gather as much information as possible on the topic of interest
    1. Look for  case studies in your industry and unrelated industries
    2. Conduct research on the internet
    3. Conduct research using commercial databases, you can access many through your public library portal
    4. Research industries different from your own to determine if there are ideas you can transfer
    5. Interview subject matter experts
    6. Brainstorm with colleagues
    7. Conduct focus group interviews
  2. Read all the information gathered and synthesize them
  3. Write down the information on 3×5 index cards, one item per card
  4. Classify the information by sections of the topic of interest

Read the post How to Analyze Information to evaluate the quality of the data you gathered.


  1. This is an ongoing process throughout your life. Information from wide experience prepares your mind to see a particular subject matter in relation  to other things
  2. Record any interesting information you come across in a scrapbook or other filing method that makes sense for you
  3. Use your cell phone if you have one, or a camera to capture any interesting scenes that you see, both photos and videos and create a file on your computer in which to save them
  4. Attend speeches, workshops, seminars and so on that are unrelated to your work just because they interest you, and take notes
  5. Visit the websites How Stuff Works, and often and read for a while
  6. Go to your favorite bookstore and pick up magazines that are unrelated to your area
  7. Go to magazine portals such as and Magatopia and read about what’s happening in other industries and countries
  8. Find incubator programs and innovation centers to learn about what new innovations are in the pipeline. There is a National Business Incubator Association. There is an association for practically anything
  9. Discover what university research labs are working on
  10. Re-read the answers to, “What process do you use to generate new ideas?” in the interviews conducted on this blog
  11. Subject yourself to new experiences
  12. Every so often, pull up the information and review them

Step 2: Working Over the Information in Your Mind

  1. Look at the information you gathered from many different angles
  2. Synthesize the information
  3. Merge two facts and see how they fit together
  4. Connect the information with what you already know (could be your general knowledge), nothing exists in a vacuum
  5. As tentative or partial ideas come to you, no matter how crazy or incomplete, document them on the index card, one idea per card
  6. Do not stop until you have at least one partial or incomplete idea
  7. When everything is a jumble or it is pointless for you to do additional work, it is time for the next step

Step 3: Incubation

  1. Turn over the problem to your subconscious mind
  2. Take a break or work on an unrelated task or do something which stimulates the imagination and emotions

Step 4: Illumination – Eureka! I have It

  1. When you least expect it, the idea comes to you (You have an aha moment)

Step 5: Verification/Implementation/Shaping & Developing the Idea

  1. The idea will unlikely be ready to be implemented as is
  2. Subject it to criticism – test it, then refine it
    1. Use the criteria you developed in Stage I to judge the quality of the solution
    2. Refine the idea if you have to
    3. Implement the idea
    4. Evaluate the idea
    5. If you find that the solution doesn’t work, go through the process again

How did the process work for you? Was it easy or difficult? What do you have to add to the conversation? What process do you use to generate ideas? Let’s keep the conversation flowing, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentor and subscribe (top on the right hand side) by email or RSS Feed.

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