In this post I’ll talk about the “idea muscle”, how to come up with better ideas and what that means for your life.
My name is Gregg Clunis and in my last post I talked about list making and how it can help reduce anxiety and increase your happiness. If you haven’t had a chance to read that post you can do so here.
In this post I’d like to talk about ideas…
More specifically, where do ideas come from and how can we get more of them.
Bestselling author of Choose Yourself, James Altucher is a strong proponent of listing 10 ideas every day in order to become an “idea machine”. That is, by listing 10 ideas per day you are supposedly flexing your “idea muscle” which should lead to more (and better) ideas.
James Altucher’s writing comes across a bit “zany”, but the guy is clearly doing something right so I wanted to know if there was any truth to this theory.
Here’s what I found.
Let me start with the somewhat disappointing part. In my research I couldn’t find much evidence to support James Altucher’s claims…at least not any that came from a source that hadn’t already read Choose Yourself.
This doesn’t disprove anything really, it just means that the brain is a bit more complicated than we think it is and, while it is certainly possible to strengthen our “idea muscle”, it is not as simple as going to the gym and lifting weights every day.
Here’s what I did find:
In a 2013 article titled “How Our Brains Work When We Are Creative: The Science of Great Ideas” on the Buffer website, Buffer being the hugely popular social media marketing and management tool, author Belle Beth Cooper outlines an interesting process for how our brains handle creative thinking.
The core of the article is that there is no one specific part of the brain that handles idea generation. There is no right brain vs left brain thinking. Instead, the brain seems to handle these processes by utilizing an intricate network of areas spread out throughout the system.
The different parts of the brain involved in this process are responsible for many things, but for our context they are what allows us to pull inspiration from the things we consume, and to put old things together into new combinations.
You can read this article in the show notes but on it’s own this seems to mean that listing 10 ideas everyday may only be valuable in theory right? I mean, if there is no central idea muscle to strengthen then what benefit is there?
Well in order to figure that out we need the next piece of the puzzle.
If there is no idea muscle then how are ideas formed? More specifically, what are the physical things we do that lead to new and unique ideas?
Many of you may know that I graduated college with a degree in art. One thing I always found fascinating about my classes was the requirement to come up with unique ideas in order to get the grades. This is a major part of any creative practice and so one of the techniques every single professor taught me was to actively collect inspiration.
It’s through this collection that new ideas are born.
How it works:
Our brains are always on. We are always processing information and making connections. This system is what has allowed us to survive and thrive on this planet with no natural defenses or weapons. It’s what separates us from everything else.
In order to use this system as a method of idea generation, you need to fuel it with inspiration. You need to give it something to make a connection between.
So let’s bring this full circle…does listing 10 ideas per day actually help you to generate more and better ideas?
The answer seems to be yes, but not on it’s own.
Listing 10 ideas per day is a useful practice that allows you to actively make connections rather than just relying on the connections to happen naturally.
But on it’s own you’ll only be making connections between the things you already know, the things you’ve already experienced, and the things you accidentally consume.
The best ideas come from a combination of listing 10 ideas per day with a strategy of pursuing and collecting inspiration to fuel those connections.
To go along with today’s post I’ve put together a short strategy for combining the 10 ideas per day habit with a habit of pursuing inspiration. This strategy should make it easy for you to take advantage of this over the next few weeks and reap the benefits of creating good ideas.
You can get a free download of this strategy by going to
Alright what’s the strategy here? How do we use this knowledge to start generating better ideas? And once we have those ideas, how do we use them to create more opportunities in our life?
First, let’s look at what more ideas can lead to.
It only takes executing on one good idea to make a huge difference in where you are in life.
One idea shared with the right person can snowball into something amazing.
But there needs to be some level of execution on those ideas in order for them to become anything.
For example, right after I graduated college, I was applying to jobs. I had been applying for close to 4 months with no responses from anyone. Then I came across a company looking for an entry level marketing hire.
I did the standard resume and cover letter submission, but I took it one step further. I had an idea for how to improve their website and I spent the weekend creating a mock up to send.
That idea landed me my first interview. During that interview I presented other ideas I had for the company and was offered the job.
A few weeks ago I had the idea for my podcast, “Tiny Leaps, Big Changes” and started production on it.This idea AND action lead to gaining interest from a sponsor who will be signing on in a few episodes.
Who knows where that will lead?
The point is that ideas can change everything if you act on them.
So how do we start to get better ideas?
It’s a numbers game…
James Altucher’s strategy works so well because it allows you to quantitatively measure how many ideas you’ve generated.
More ideas = more chances to have good ideas = more opportunities to change your life.
As I pointed out, this practice means nothing if you are making the same connections.
So you also need a practice that I like to call active consumption. This is where you set time aside each day to search for things that inspire your creative side and then collect them for later use.
Here’s the Step by Step Challenge:
If you want to take advantage of this then here’s what you should do:
- Take some time today to create a new folder on your computer.
- Start reading content, watching videos, and looking at images. Focus on the things you are naturally drawn to.
- Collect snippets, save images, and collect quotes from these pieces that stand out the most to you.
The above three steps should take about 30–45 minutes.
Once that’s done here’s the next step:
- Sit down and list out 10 ideas for anything
This loop of actively consuming, listing ideas, and then taking one small action will lead you to many places that you can’t imaging. Just as it’s done for me, and just as it’s done for millions of others.
If you’d like a version of this challenge to download and keep forever head over to www.tinyleaps.co/episode2.
Until next week, I’ve been Gregg Clunis and remember, all big changes come from the tiny leaps you take every day.
By: Gregg Clunis
Gregg Clunis is a web and digital media entrepreneur. He is the host and producer of Tiny Leaps, Big Changes, a podcast focused on research-backed personal development. You can subscribe to the show here: http://apple.co/1mFWdYK