How To Get New Ideas! …Sometimes

I have figured out how I get new ideas!

…Let me qualify that: I have figured out how I get some new ideas. Some of the time.

I once thought ideas came from doing or trying unfamiliar things – those exits off our regular route. Which would make the formula something like this:

Eat cheese curds + visit Kentucky + take Japanese ink-blowing class = Many New Ideas

But I think there’s something else going on. Because it’s not so much the unfamiliar that gives rise to ideas. It’s the quality of attention I pay when I meet unfamiliar people, eat unfamiliar food, visit unfamiliar places: I listen better, notice more, dismiss less.

(There’s no reason, of course, any of this can’t be done with the familiar. It just takes more care on my part.)

And it’s this – this listening, noticing, not dismissing – that can bring me to an idea. Though it never rolls down the conveyor belt fully fleshed and ready for action.

Usually, the idea comes along as this little whiff. Like an aroma you have to follow around corners and down alleys to find the bakery. Which we might not choose to do. We’ve got more practical fish to fry, right?

But if I sidestep practicality and stick with curiosity, things happen with that whiff of an idea. It snowballs around in my head, connects with and layers on top of other ideas, or bumps up against them, asking, “Ok, but what if…” Until it’s ripened (though some ideas rot, too) into something big enough, bright enough that I can’t ignore it.

And from there, it’s up to me to muster the courage to take it out of my head and put it into the world.

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