How to come up with good ideas more often
Where do ideas come from?
I’m talking ideas for projects, ideas for stories, ideas for businesses.
By now, you know that “there’s no such thing as an original idea”. That’s true, but it’s only half the story.
Twyla Tharp in her excellent book on creativity describes the “unshakable rule that you don’t have a good idea until you combine two little ideas.” It’s an eye opener because it makes you realise that there’s no lightning strike of inspiration. You realise that a good idea is a simple matter of combining two different ideas together.
Many of my own projects are the result of this combination.
My popular journalism prediction videos were a combination of the raft of end-of-year predictions which flood the internet each December and stylish video.
Inside the Story, which raised $4400 for Kiva this spring, came about by taking Seth Godin’s book What Matters Now and applying its approach to a completely different field of digital storytelling (you’ll notice Seth gets a nod in the book).
Meanwhile a whole industry of advocacy film-making has developed from the concept of applying a documentary approach to the third-sector market.
To take it a step further the most innovative ideas can come from combining two things which would never ordinarily be put together.
A huge amount of content for this blog, in fact, comes from combining smart things Chris, Amber, Ryan, Seth and Tim say about philosophy, life-design, productivity and marketing and wondering “what happens if we apply that to online publishing and journalism?” It’s the reason the blog’s approach to entrepreneurial journalism stands out, say, from what Jeff Jarvis or Mark Briggs might write.
Similarly, the aesthetic of online video is starting to step away from mimicking television news because videographers, armed with HDSLR cameras are taking their cues now from the disparate world of fictional cinema. They’re combining James Cameron’s style with documentary content.
Wait, isn’t that stealing?
Of course it isn’t. Kirby Ferguson, the brain behind the influential series Everything is a Remix, makes this point brilliantly in his series of films. He argues how we take an idea, transform, remix and combine it to create something new. To flat out copy What Matters Now and pass it on as my own – sure that’s stealing. But to combine it with another idea transforms and remixes it into something new.
“If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”
Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
Lots of young journalists, film makers and publishers are told to start blogging, but abandon it because they don’t think they have anything to add to the saturated journalism-naval gazing market. Certainly, no-one wants to read another postgraduate’s opinion of the Leveson Inquiry. So if you’re stuck, start by taking something else you’re passionate about – maybe another industry or another craft – and collide it with journalism.
If you’re lucky and persistant, sparks may fly, and give life to a whole blog, an article, a documentary – even a new business.