How to get ideas

Cover of "How to Get Ideas"

Cover of How to Get Ideas

In his book “How to get ideas” Jack Foster maintains that there are no completely new ideas to be had in the world. All we can do is re-arrange our existing ideas into new combinations. He suggests getting two random ideas and splicing them together to create something unusual. The best illustration of this is cooking. When you think about it, we really just use the same set of ingredients most of the time; we just put them together in a variety of ways. Every now and then we discover a new ingredient but it’s fair to say that someone, somewhere, has been using it for a long time. For example, my new favourite ingredient is chipotle in adobo sauce. I’ve been putting this in everything lately, and for me it’s a new thing, but I’m pretty sure it’s an everyday food in Mexico.

If we accept Jack Foster’s contention that most inventions and discoveries are achieved by combining existing ideas, we really take the pressure off ourselves to think that we have to be original. All we need to do is give our minds a bit of breathing space.

Here are three ways to get your creative juices flowing:

  1. Think like a child and ask questions. What would happen if I tried to make a solar system out of fruit? What would happen if I sang all day instead of talking (I might write an opera).
  2. Go outside and commune with nature. Every book on creativity suggests that getting close to nature is a precursor to creative thinking. I think this is because nature is amazing (to put it mildly) and being away from the radio, phone, TV and computer frees up your mind for other more creative ideas. Disconnecting from your digital life can be hard but it’s worth it.
  3. Visit a gallery or a museum and find inspiration from other people. I used to avoid visiting art exhibitions because I felt a bit like a pretender. Now I don’t worry about that. I try to find things that I like and I try to work out what attracts me. Being able to articulate what it is that I find appealing is slowly helping me to become more confident about my artistic preferences.

So get out there and have some fun. Appreciate all the beautiful and interesting things in the world and let your ideas flow.


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