Don't Go With Idea #1

I spend a good bit of time interacting with blank things. Blank pages. Blank whiteboards. Blank thoughts.

I chalk it up to the "creative process," and most of the time I enjoy filling up the blankness with ideas.  However, I've also noticed the strongest ideas are never what comes out first.

In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp describes a exercise she runs with audiences where she makes them brainstorm 60 uses for a common, three-legged stool. Typically, people think that's an impossibly high number for inventing new uses for a standard piece of furniture.

Sure, sitting on it is one idea. What are others? (upside down cup dryer, dumbbell, yarn holder, cow udder model, battle shield?) However, time and again the audiences rise to the occasion.

Here is what is cool, though. Tharp says that the real creativity comes around the 30-ish suggestion mark ...well after the easy-to-think-up, common ideas have been said. Those later stages are where the real creative gold lives.

Think about the magical "30" as you watch this silly video.

Isn't watching little Tex get pummeled in so many unique and funny ways impressive? I mean, thinking up five ways to knock him off is easy, but 30? That's work.

I work to remember the 30 principle when I'm problem solving. Our team aims to throw out as many ideas as possible, regardless of how odd or crazy. Inevitably, the quantity and persistence of the process will lead to better quality ideas...especially in the later stages when all the easy-to-think up, common, we-already-tried-that ideas have been said.

So, next time you are hunkering down to get creative on a new idea or approach to a challenge, don't end too soon.

Keep pushing, even when the ideas aren't coming as fast and furious. Chances are, you'll be on the precipice of that one innovative idea.

Once you master that, thinking up solutions will be as easy as shooting fish in a cowboy on an iPhone.

Good luck. Yippee Ki Yay!