I’ve been thinking a lot recently about idea quality.
In part, it was due to this post from Nat Eliason called Improving Idea Flow. But it was also because since I’ve started writing on this site, I’ve considered it more and more my job to “think clearly.”
I don’t think I have the brightest ideas. Hardly. But I know my ideas are a lot sharper than they used to be.
There have been periods of my life when I’ve been filled with ideas. New thoughts would pop up constantly. There have been other times in my life when I was thinking surface level thoughts.
So it forced me to consider: how do we cultivate high quality ideas?
Great ideas don’t just happen out of nowhere. Sure, you might come up with a great idea out of nowhere. But it is often after thinking about the problem for a long time and then letting it rest.
Like flowers, ideas need to be planted in advance. A great idea today is likely the result of weeks, months, and (sometimes) years of preparation.
Ways To Gauge If We’re Having Good Ideas
There are a couple of specific ways I like to check if I’m having good ideas. These are metrics that don’t lie.
The Amazon Theory
Here’s my theory: Your last five Amazon purchases are directly related to the quality of your ideas.
Specifically, your book purchases.
Your order history hasn’t necessarily affected your thinking yet (it’s possible you haven’t read the books, after all), but if you’re purchasing high quality materials, it likely means you’re thinking high quality thoughts.
To see if this is true, look at a time when you were “thinking well.” Correlate it with your book purchases.
What were you doing on a day to day basis? What was your headspace like at this time?
Look at the other side as well. When your thinking was poor, what were you ordering from Amazon (or were you ordering nothing)?
This could be a good gauge in figuring out where your brain is at in terms of idea quality.
Screen Time Check
You can often tell if you’re having good ideas by the time you are spending on specific apps.
Some apps to look out for are Tik Tok, Instagram, and YouTube. For me, the more time I spend on these apps, the lower my idea quality.
Twitter allows me to cultivate interesting ideas and connect with people, but for some could lead to a deterioration of ideas (specifically if you spend a large amount of time following current events or engaging in partisan politics).
It’s important to identify your own personal triggers.
One app to consider is Scribd. It’s a “Netflix for books,” delivered to your phone for a monthly fee. I don’t subscribe anymore, but I read a few books on it and it can serve as a better alternative than most social media apps.
Ways To Build Better Ideas
Okay, you’ve identified whether you have good ideas or not. Now it’s time to build your idea quality. How are you supposed to do that?
Here are a few ways that have worked for me:
One of the best ways to get better ideas is to have periods of uninterrupted focus.
If you’re doing this alone, it can be time you set aside to think, write, read, or meditate.
With a group, it could be time spent working with the team to figure out how to get to the bottom of something.
Uninterrupted focus is so important because it allows you to flesh through ideas. You can filter out weak ideas from great ideas by simply thinking about them for long enough.
If your idea quality is low in a given time, you could just blurt out the first idea that comes to your mind. But uninterrupted focus gives you the ability to think through the first, second, third idea to get to the ninth one – the one that really is high quality.
In today’s day and age, we lean on our phone, email, or notifications to fill our thoughts and interrupt our focus.
One study found your IQ drops 10 points when you check your email in the middle of a task.
As a result, our ideas are less interesting and of lower quality.
For uninterrupted focus, I recommend the Freedom app (not an affiliate link). By using this app, you can block specific sites for a specific amount of time. A great way to use your computer for one task at a time.
Don’t Consume What Everyone Else Is Consuming
The quickest way to be interesting is to talk about what no one else is talking about.
If you notice everyone around you is talking about white swans, your ideas are going to be quite interesting if you start talking about your experience with black swans.
The aim is to look at a conversation, and ask… “Where does my knowledge or experience come into play that is related to this topic… that most people have not yet experienced?”
For example, if someone sneezes, you can say “God Bless You!” and then follow it up by asking if they know why we say “God Bless You” when someone sneezes.
The answer for those who are curious: During the plague of 590 AD, Pope Gregory I ordered everyone to say a prayer when someone sneezed. Hence, we say God Bless You.
This one is basic People who read come up with better ideas. It’s just the truth.
The world is fascinating. There are so many avenues to explore. Take something you enjoy and ask “Why is it this way?”
If everyone around you really likes Joe Rogan and studies his ideas, figure out where Joe Rogan got his ideas from. Who are his mentors? What are his influences? What books or resources does he enjoy consuming?
Good ideas often originate from asking “Why does the world work this way?”
Exercise Without Inputs
Something about getting your body in motion combined with having zero inputs brings about incredible ideas.
Exercise in this case refers to individual behaviors. Walking, running, biking, swimming, stretching, lifting weights.
No inputs means no music, podcasts, or phone. Difficult in today’s infinitely connected world. But allowing yourself to let your mind wander is something we did as children and leads to interesting insights.
Come Up With 10 Ideas Daily
If you want to cultivate the habit of getting good ideas, come up with a list of bad ones. In all likelihood, one of those bad ideas will end up being a good one.
It sounds like a crazy idea, until you actually do it.
Where To Go From Here
To figure out the quality of your ideas, look at your Amazon history and your Screen Time on your phone.
Then, if you want to improve your ideas, build the time you spend with uninterrupted focus, consume materials that other people aren’t looking at, read, go deeper, exercise without inputs, and come up with 10 ideas daily.
You’ll be coming up with ideas left and right.