Whenever your brain makes a “that’s interesting” noise, alarm bells should be going off.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re reading or talking to someone or even sitting alone.
“That’s interesting” is the announcement of a sprouting idea, and when you do the polite thing by continuing to listen to the person in front of you, or the auto-pilot thing by continuing to read the blog post, or the inactive thing by leaving the podcast on play, then you just killed the idea.
It’s gone forever and isn’t coming back.
Capturing & nurturing fresh ideas is easy. It takes two habits and two bits of equipment you already have.
The habits I use are thus:
- Every time you begin to suspect something might be interesting, ask yourself why it is interesting and then write that down
- At the end of the day or week, separate your ideas from the daily trivia (e.g. shopping lists & todos) and put them in a box by themselves
The equipment is simpler still:
- A bit of paper and a pen
- A phone with a voice recorder
I would normally say it’s not about the tools, but in this case it actually is. Potential ideas are so ephemeral that you have to be ready to grab them immediately.
I don’t like using notebooks for a couple reasons. They’re bulky enough that sometimes aren’t in my pocket when I need them. Second, I fill them with all sorts of other crap and never end up reviewing the ideas contained therein.
So I use these blank business cards. They’re 10 quid for a box of 1000 and I’m happily on my third box since beginning to use them a few months ago. I’ve also had good results ussing a single sheet of paper folded into quarters — my idea sheet for the day.
I used to think I had practically zero ideas. Maybe one every few months. They were so rare that I would irrationally treasure and obsess over them. Now I write down dozens per day, and file them away in a little box I review occasionally. The idea for this post came out of the box just now. That’s how I can happily post something every day.
It turns out that back then, I was just bad at teasing out and capturing ideas. They were there but I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see them.
New ideas are like little turtles. They only poke their heads above water for a fleeting moment, it’s such a tiny black dot on the surface of the water that you would never know they were there if you weren’t watching for the ripples.
Noticing something interesting is the ripple. It’s a sign that something of value is just beneath the surface. Asking yourself why it’s interesting brings the turtle to shore.