Every day it happens. We spend time doing our daily routines, taking care of business, living our lives. At some point we look at what we’re doing and say, “There’s got to be a better way to do (insert task here).” Occasionally an idea pops into our head. Now most of the time these aren’t the big, world shifting, change the playing field type of idea. No usually they are little ones…opportunities for improvement (OFI) that we make note of in our heads and keep moving forward with our tasks. Unfortunately most of the time those ideas are lost faster than a quarter among couch cushions. If they’re little ideas, what good are they anyway? Why spend the time to do anything with them when there’s real work to be done.
There are a plethora of analogies about how little things add up to big things but I’m going to challenge you to not try to scale your ideas up for once. We often get caught in the cycle of “if I get enough good ideas I can come up with one great one” and then we’re back to square one and couch cushions. Rather I challenge you to start capturing and applying the little ideas whenever and wherever you can for the purpose of exercise your “idea muscles”.
Every time you come up with a little idea ask three questions about it: what would it take to make it happen, what would happen if it didn’t work, and what would happen if it did. What you are doing is developing your evaluation skills for new ideas and determining the short and long term effects of the idea through visualization. All these skills make a huge difference when it comes to more complex and larger scale brainstorming and ideation work. Think about these little ideas as equivalent to reps in the gym when you’re working out.
Here’s how to get started doing this right now. Keep a pad of paper and a pen nearby as you work and as soon as you get a little idea on how to improve something, creating something new, or something that might make a difference, write it down. Capture it for later. DO NOT try to evaluate it right then. You’re collecting eggs in a hen house, not cooking each one standing among the chickens. Later on take some time to ask those three questions of each idea and capture the answers. Again this is an exercise in strengthening your creative and associative thinking processes not an effort to come up with the next big idea.
Over time you’ll find you get better and better not only at seeing the connections for the little ideas, but evaluating them on the fly, and ultimately having one little idea spawn another one. Coming up with ideas can be difficult for some, but it is something that everyone can learn how to do with practice and patience. Who knows, the next little idea you have could be a hard boiled egg or a country omelette.