Screaming Circuits: Out of Ideas and applied Heisenberg

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Out of Ideas and applied Heisenberg

Every now and then, most of us seem to run out of ideas. Then, like the proverbial high school term paper, with a subject requirement of: “Pick a subject you’re interested in”, we struggle to come up with what to do next.

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The common business cure for this malady is to brainstorm, either yourself, or better, with others. You get together in a safe setting - neutral ground - and make sure everyone knows that there are no bad ideas, and no criticism of ideas. You write down all of the ideas on a whiteboard, notepad, or sticky notes. In theory, people are inspired by the thoughts of others whom are inspired by the growing accumulation of ideas. It’s circular inspiration.

At some point, the idea flow is stopped and the group multi-votes to get the list down to a manageable number, which becomes your next source of ideas. The top three to five ideas then get more detailed attention in subsequent meetings and analysis sessions. Eventually you end up with a plan that will dominate your market and crush all competition.

Maybe.

There are times when this approach is appropriate and useful. However, it’s not universally productive. Sometimes, it results in ideas that are completely void of potential, way off strategy, or unimplementable.

Another approach is to sidestep the problem. If the problem is a lack of ideas, don’t take that head on. Don’t search for ideas. The act of searching for ideas often stops much of the creative process. It’s a bit of Heisenberg applied to psychology rather than to quantum physics. You can be creative, or you can think about being creative, but not both at the same time.

Rather than trying to be creative, try to understand the context of the subject. In business, the context would likely relate to your job function, your product, your competition, or your customers. For marketing folks, the context is customers. For manufacturing, it’s process, etc.

Spend time trying to better understand what you’re doing and why. I find that if I dig into customers, competitors, relating technologies, and what I've been doing, the ideas are a lot easier to come by.

Why do my customers like my company? Why do they need what I offer. Do they really need what I offer, or am I just close enough? What motivates them? Is it money? Technology? Cool factor? Avoiding getting yelled at? Keep asking. Keep digging. Most people don't do that and come up with mundane ideas that more or less keep things the way they are.

When you talk to customers, don’t ask them what they want or need. Ask what they do and how they do it. Ask how they use your product or service, and why they chose you.

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