How To Get Ideas To Spark Innovation?

get ideas, innovation

James Webb Young, one of the creators of the modern advertising industry, once said, "An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements." Any innovation starts with an idea. This article will cover several concepts related to an organization's abilities to innovate, including idea development, creativity, and visualization.

Idea Development

In his book, How To Get Ideas, Jack Foster describes many ways companies and individuals can start developing ideas. Producing ideas boils down to five steps:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Gather information
  3. Search for the idea
  4. Forget about the problem
  5. Put the idea into action

Step number 4 is quite interesting. It may seem counterintuitive, but leaving the problem alone for a while after you have gathered all the information may be important. Do not be surprised if an idea will then appear seemingly out of nowhere, which is why you should always have a small notebook and a pen near you to jot it down. Otherwise, that idea might disappear from your mind just as quickly as it appeared. Foster reminds us that many discoveries in research laboratories come as hunches when people take time to relax after a period of intense thinking and fact gathering.

As James Webb Young remarked, an idea is often a combination of two old elements. For example, when Salvador Dali put dreams and art together, he got surrealism. When Levi Hutchins combined an alarm and a clock, he got an alarm clock.

Young's definition of idea reminds me of one of the discovery skills discussed in the book The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators that I mentioned in this post. Associating is an ability to connect unrelated problems, questions, or ideas from different fields to cultivate new insights. The best way to build the associating skill is to have a wide range of diverse knowledge and experiences. Something happening in one field could give us fresh insight and help us combine it with existing knowledge to solve a problem in another field.

Similarly, we should remember Adam Grant's advice about originality. The best way to be original is to generate many ideas and produce a large volume of work. While most of that work will be unremarkable, having a large quantity of output increases the chances of originality. Foster concurs, "Getting many ideas is easier than getting the impossible 'right' one."


When I hear the word creativity, I immediately remember Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk, where he said that we do not grow into creativity, we grow out of it. He also posited that all children are born creative, but by the time they finish their secondary education, they lose that creativity. Neil Postman agreed, "Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods." Postman's suggestion was to become a question mark again.

Asking questions is another discovery skill that Clayton Christensen mentioned in The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. Innovators challenge conventional thinking through questioning and always asking why, why not, and what if. Instead of asking questions to find out how to make something a little better, they question the assumptions and play devil's advocate. They always ask themselves why things are the way they are.

Innovative people have an insatiable curiosity about how things work. Asking questions is empowering. It means that we expect a problem to be solvable. We get ideas because we know that they are around, and we just need to discover them.


When faced with a problem, visualizing the problem can be even more helpful than verbalizing it. What do you see when you think of the problem? Does it resemble anything you already know how to do? What ideas do you picture when you think of the problem?

According to Foster,

"For the most part, the difference between people who crackle with ideas and those who don't has little to do with some innate ability to come up with ideas. It has to do with the belief that they can come up with ideas."

Foster suggests changing our self-image and thinking of ourselves as someone who can have new ideas. Similar to the Silva Mind Control Method, Foster advises, "If you want to get ideas, imagine having gotten them."

Leave a Comment