So You Want More Ideas? Try These 5 Things

In the 80s, I found a couple of television series that became my all-time favourite. It was my first exposure to the concept of creativity.
The first one was the A-Team, featuring;

Mr T as Sergeant B.A. Baracus – The muscle of the group and a mechanical genius.
Dirk Benedict as Lt. Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck – A charismatic charmer, and all-round conman.
Dwight Schultz as Captain ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock – The pilot of the team and also a resident of a mental asylum.
and George Peppard as Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith – The strategic thinker and leader of the A Team.

NBC's The A Team
NBC’s The A Team

The A Team was about a group of Vietnam War veterans who were being hunted down by their own government for a crime they didn’t commit.

While on the run, they turned soldiers of fortune, helping people out from difficult situation. And in almost every episode, they will create some kind of ugly machines to overcome their enemies’ greater number and firepower.

Not only that, you would love to watch how they evade capture by the officers assigned to oversee their capture.

The second one was MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson. A top agent with a group called the Phoenix Foundation. MacGyver was sent to various parts of the world, handling all kinds of disasters ranging from dealing with a horde of meat eating army ants to rescuing a team of scientists from chemical-ladened underground lab.

CBS' MacGyver Source:
CBS’ MacGyver

MacGyver is not a mechanical genius that creates machines, he is no muscleman and neither is he a pilot like any of the A-Team members. In fact, he was resolved never to shoot a gun and avoided it as much as he could, except to take out its parts to create a distraction.

I find it interesting because he applied his deep knowledge of chemistry and physics to defeat the bad guys. He used fertilizers to make explosive, chocolates as adhesives and detergents to make smoke bombs. It’s always a joy to watch such creativity at work.

No resources? Good, then it’s time to create and innovate.

I have always wondered why some people are more creative than others. Why some of us are always the ‘Mr Solutions’ while others are often labelled as the ever popular ‘Problem Child’.


Self-Labelling – The Poison From Within
“It’s easy for you because you’re creative”

“I’m not so creative to think of such solution”

These are some of the reasons that I get rather frequently from a lot of people over the past years as a trainer and a manager, especially when the tasks required some form of divergent, convergent thinking and creative thinking.

There were some who seemed too quick to throw in the towel and prematurely label themselves as ‘not creative’ or ‘cannot be creative’.

Self labelling is one of the most dangerous things any human being can do. One we start self-labelling, it means that we have decided that as our fate, not just as a weakness.

Weaknesses are temporary. There are several ways to overcome a weakness but self-labelling is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A very dangerous thing to do, that we sometimes do in tough times.

Worst still, self-labelling works intrinsically, meaning it is from within. Being labelled by others is bad but self-labelling is poison from within.

More than five years ago, I started an extensive research on the topic of creative thinking, idea generation and innovation to help my clients and students in their own respective projects.

I’ve learned that becoming more creative is not like pasting a band aid. There are certain habits that you will need to adopt and apply consistently.

In time, you will be able to generate ideas that benefit you, your community or the society on the whole.

So far, I came across about 15 to 20 things that we can do to train our brains more creative and most of them are practised by even the well known inventor like Leonardo Da Vinci.

Let’s take a look at 5 of those habits

The 5 Recommended Habits To Generate Ideas.

1. Note It Down!


‘Ideas are like a slippery fish. When you think you got it, it will slip away.”

This is a consistent quote that I have been giving my clients and students.


We can never know when we get that inspiration. So keep a small notebook handy. Write down anything that comes to your mind. It could be anything unique that you see or heard.

It doesn’t have to be in a perfect sentence. It doesn’t need to have correct spelling.

It can be in the form of drawings, sketches with tonnes of scribbles. That book is not for anyone but you and you alone.

Have you seen Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook?

That creative inventor had several of such notebooks and his thoughts, ideas and inventions have influenced many of those technologies we enjoy today.

Notebook of Leonardo - British Library Prints Source of Image:
Notebook of Leonardo – British Library Prints
Source of Image:

And it is not a fluke!
Let’s take a look at Nikola Tesla’s notes

A page of Cilorado Springs notes, 1899 Source:
A page of Cilorado Springs notes, 1899

He, too, has his own notebooks. So why shouldn’t you?

Some, or in fact most, of those ideas don’t make sense. So what? Just write it down. You see, some ideas takes time to bloom. Some needs to be matched with another concept or idea in order for it to bloom.

So give it time. Write whatever that comes to your mind. Do not judge. Write it daily, read it daily. Let the list pile up.

One day when you re-read your list of ideas, you will get that Eureka moment! That Eureka moment might happen in your next brainstorming session with you colleagues or in a meeting with senior managements in your organization.


2. Take naps.

Don’t laugh! It’s the truth.

A research by the North American Space Agency, led by Professor David F. Dinges from University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, confirmed that a 26 minute nap showed a 34 percentage increase in work performance and a solid 54 percentage increase in alertness.

Research by Harvard University found that naps are able to reduce the effects of information overload which happens to a lot of people.

I recalled a talk by motivational leader Jim Rohn, and naps happened to be one of the things he encouraged. Once you take that short nap, you will feel more refreshed and ready to take on the world.

Dump that old belief of naps are just for slackers, old folks or kids.

Professionals and high performers like you need naps too.

If need be, take a quick lunch in exchange for time to nap and you will feel its wonders.

26 minutes is all you need.

3. Feed The Belly To Feed The Brain.

Brain needs energy and nutrients to function well.

The book ‘Train Your Brain’ (Horne, Wootton and Horne) gives a pretty detailed list of food that is deemed beneficial to the brain. Just to sum up quickly;

Some of the foods that we need to pay close attention to;
a. Coffee
b. Soft drink
c. Alcohol
d. Strong tea
I used to drink a cup of coffee with milk as a perk me up.

Every morning, I will head over to the coffee shop near my workplace for a cup of coffee and walk over to the office.

Soon, one cup is not gonna do it so I drank two cups. The dosage increased until I decided to switch to a stronger cup of coffee.

At that time, I was at a state where I always feel thirsty, always finding my way to the toilet and always feeling tired.

Coffee did not seem to work for me anymore. It became a point where I could drink a cup of coffee at night and still be able to go to bed.

Some of you may be able to relate to this.

We may need caffeine to function and perform our daily tasks.

It gives us the perk that we need and sometimes, we feel that the more cuppa the merrier but as strange as it may sound, we tend to double the consumption to get that same effect that we used to get with one cup of coffee.

Meaning, drinking two cups does not bring in twice the efficiency. Instead, it will cause our body to dehydrate faster (as coffee are diuretic) and brain needs water.

So do I need to give up coffee altogether? As long as I don’t go beyond a cup a day, I’ll be fine.

Moderation is still key.

Some of the foods that we should consume for that extra brain boost;

a. Food that contain flavonols such as berries, spinach and dark chocolate. Flavonols reverse the deterioration of the ability to think.
b. Foods that contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids such as fish (salmon, mackerel for eg) and eggs.
c. Water – lots of water.

4. Exercise Your Brawns and your Brains

I will not go into details of why you need to exercise. We all know how important regular exercise is. If you don’t care about the way you look, you might at least care about that brain of yours.

You see, the entire human physiology is designed to exercise. Exercise is not just for a healthy heart or a slimmer waistline, but it is also important for a healthy brain functions.

Here’s one more reason why we need to exercise; our brains need oxygen for its processes!

Yup, the brain needs to exercise too.

However, the workout for the brain is even more interesting.

Here are some of the activities done regularly by Leonardo Da Vinci that you can try to give that brain a great workout;

a. Try writing with your non-dominant hand for about 10-15 minutes a day. Leonardo was ambidextrous, meaning he can write and paint with both hands.

b. Try mirror writing. Some of Leonardo’s notes were mirror-written.

c. Juggling.

These activities are guaranteed to give beginners a good stretch on the brain. If it’s your first few times doing this, you will feel that it is irritating the life out of you and most people will give up, just like any other form of workout.

If you feel like giving up, I need you to remember something; you are not training for a circus act, even though it might come in handy. It is a workout for your brain. It is supposed to be fun and silly.

You may even try doodling or even draw cartoons. No one cares but it will be a great workout for your brain.

Of course, there are plenty other brain workout activities you choose ranging from Sudoku to puzzles. Whatever your choice may be, try them out for 15 minutes a day.


5. Play!

To me, the most creative people in the world are kids. They do anything and everything they want, without ever worrying about someone else’ opinion. Yup, it’s true.

Do you remember yourself being a kid?

I used to build the entire campsite in my room.

I used empty tissue boxes to make cars and guns.

I could recreate a brand new movie using my old Mask and Centurion toys.

We spent a lot of time playing. And as we play, we create. We innovate.

We may be lack of resources but we made it up with ingenuity. We did it because it was fun.

When we grow up, suddenly there are consequences for many things and we stopped playing.

We start to give opinions the permission to influence the things we do.

A few years ago, I came across a Ted Talk video by IDEO’s Tim Brown explaining why creativity, design and innovation are better with play.

Carl Jung, a founder of analytical psychology, wrote in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963), of how he went outdoors and almost every day, he would gather stones from a lake to stack.

No real reason but simply to play.

Just have some fun, take some time away from that stressful routine work or project. You will come back refreshed and rejuvenated.

In 2013, a training company that I was working for was having a series of tough projects underway. Everyone was busy on their tasks.

In training business, like many other businesses, it is important that we have a regular flow of ideas within the teams.

When I needed the team to have fresh ideas and break away from the usual routine, I would gather everyone to have a round of Cashflow Game. (I was the Senior Assistant Director at that time) So I set aside about one and a half hours for everyone to play the game.

Everyone, from operations to finance and sales team, had fun. Throughout the game, there were no discussions of work. Only laughter.

After that, we get back to work.

The result? One obvious result is the drop in the level of stress. Second, the bond between the different departments was strengthened and thirdly, the curriculum developers started designing 3 new program materials that week.

Not bad after a 90 minutes play time.

It’s Not That Difficult, Isn’t It?

After reading this post, do you still think or feel that idea generation is only for those of super high IQs?

These habits are not that difficult and easy to implement, also it’s almost at no cost.

If you already have some habits or things that you do to help you with your creative thinking or idea generation, just drop in the comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Horne, Terry, Simon Wootton, and Terry Horne. Train Your Brain. London: Teach Yourself, 2010. Print.

Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Pantheon Books, 1963. Print.

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