Foster: "How to Get Ideas"

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January 2012

As Jack Foster points out in How to Get Ideas, (2007, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.), a common, recurring definition of a new idea is some unexpected recombination of existing ideas. New ideas are rarely, if ever, totally new. So how does one produce these new ideas? Foster presents a five step process:

  1. Define the problem: Are you asking the right question? Are there different questions you can ask?
  2. Gather information: Think about the question. Do research. Talk to people and make visits. Dig deep.
  3. Search for the idea: Get many ideas, and don’t get stuck trying to find just the one best idea. Wait until you have many ideas to analyze them.
  4. Forget about it: Switch gears and work on another project. Insight will come.
  5. Put the idea into action: Start right away, when you have enthusiasm for the idea. Make a ‘To Do’ list. Set a deadline and stay with it.

So you can be more productive when you are searching for the idea in Step 3, Foster shares ten ways to ‘Idea-Condition Your Mind’. Among them are:

  • Recognize that there are many ideas, many ways to address a situation, and not only one ‘best’ way.
  • Visualize success in your project, and imagine getting the ideas that you need.
  • Identify what boundaries you are setting that are not really there and what assumptions you are making that are incorrect.
  • Work with others, but consider brainstorming with a group of only two to four peers, to give more freedom to come up with crazy ideas.
  • Look on less than perfect outcomes not as failures but as challenges and learning opportunities.