When you want to have new ideas: 12 things to do to get started

At the beginning of a new year, your slate can be blank to fill in with your goals, things you want to stop, start, accelerate, and slow down. This is also a time to generate new ideas, look at familiar problems from a new lens and find new ways to make an impact.

Lots of people say they have their best ideas in the shower. I am not sure where this came from. I have never had an idea in the shower except to not forget to condition my hair. However, the point about finding good ideas while doing mundane things is true. If our hands are doing something fairly rote, then our minds are free to wander and explore.

I baked a lot this past December and while I folded in the sifted flour, I had some interesting thoughts about what I could do differently this year. Unfortunately, when I find myself unable to fall back asleep at 3 am, I can have the ultimate brainwave. Why is that? I find this annoying but I also find I can’t stop it from happening. Our brains decide to start working when we wake up, which is why I can’t fall back asleep in the first place.

Ideas can come in the most unusual circumstances. Funny how they don’t always come when we have the time to think about them. They can be elusive. We can get stuck in certain circumstances and find it difficult to see new ways or how to overcome obstacles. So, how do we get unstuck? How is it possible to leave past baggage in the past and look at something familiar with new eyes?

According to Brain Science, several parts of our brain need to be stimulated for new ideas to form. We have always thought about being left-brained (and more logical) or right-brained (more creative). But, the truth is that many parts need to be sparking at the same time for us to have new ideas.

In order to engage the brain, we may need to do different things to get to a “new” place. Here are my tips for finding new ideas and new ways to approach work.

  1. Don’t think too hard about it. This may seem counterintuitive but I find innovating or having new ideas is a lot like trying to get back to sleep. If you chase it too much, think about it too much, it won’t happen. If you sit down with your notebook and force new ideas to come, it may not happen. Let your ideas come and go until something clicks. Giving yourself a timeline may work against you here as creativity and finding new ideas may take time.
  2. Carve time to brainstorm. Sometimes I can have new ideas all by my lonesome but, oftentimes, I have ideas while I am brainstorming with others. Free-form brainstorming where all ideas are welcomed is a good way to come up with something new. There are many tricks and formulas to brainstorming. If you search the internet for the keyword “brainstorming”, you will get inundated with ways to do this. Pick the best one for you. One of the simplest ways to brainstorm is to have everyone write down 3 ideas related to a topic and share. Or, you can have one person share one idea and ask the next person to build on that idea. Keep going around until all thoughts have been exhausted.
  3. Think about the opposite. I find thinking in the negative helps me find the positive. If I think about what hasn’t worked or what the situation may look like without finding a new idea, that leads me to see the positive or at least something new to try.
  4. Fold your laundry. As I said above, do a rote task to allow your mind to wander and think about something in a new way. For me, it is baking or folding laundry. For others, it can be knitting, doing Sudoku, cleaning a bathroom (my least favorite activity on the planet). Sometimes when we are engaged in mindless tasks, our minds can focus without us even knowing they are. I know…a little creepy but it works.
  5. Don’t let insomnia go to waste. For those of us who struggle to fall asleep or wake up and can’t get back to sleep, this is the time when, weirdly, new ideas come to us. I have solved many problems at 3 am but find that I forget them when I get up for my morning meeting. Trust me. You will not remember that awesome idea when 7 am rolls around. Having a little notepad on our phones or on our bedside table can help with this. Even the smallest little note can trigger our brains to remember what we were thinking.
  6. Take a break. Many of us took a break at the end of the year to rest, relax, laugh and take stock. But, I don’t advise taking a break only at the end of a year. Sometimes, taking a personal day or afternoon off is required to recharge. Taking a true lunch break, going for a walk, exercising, playing with your dog can help new ideas come to you.
  7. Doodle in a notebook. I can’t draw. If you ever play Pictionary with me, you don’t want me on your team. We will lose. But, even if you can’t draw, I recommend doodling in a notebook to spark your brain. While I don’t doodle, I do tend to re-trace my words I write down while I think. If a handwriting analyst ever looked at my notebook, they might tell me I am OCD. I really just keep my hands busy while my brain is chugging along. Since I don’t draw, I re-write words.
  8. Read. Yeah…makes sense, right? But, when I say read, I mean read a wide variety of things. I read brain science books, crime novels, the latest business book, self-help books, biographies and even popular magazines. I had one of my best organizational ideas for work come from a 100-word insert in Good Housekeeping!
  9. Daydream. When was the last time you just looked out a window or sat in your patio chair? While this helps us relax, it also gives our brains a mental break to conjure something. Again, don’t force it. Use this time to decompress; but, when we are relaxed, good ideas can come to us. I rarely find that I have awesome ideas under pressure.
  10. Ping off of others. While I recommend brainstorming up front with others, I also recommend sharing your ideas once they are crystallized. I may have great brainwaves at 3 am but they become even better when I share with others and get their thoughts. Collaborating and discussing ideas with others can only make them stronger. We always need others’ perspectives to validate our thinking, challenge it or flat out refute it. Whatever happens as a result of team discussion is a positive outcome.
  11. Try something. As I have written many times, try something out. Take action and see if it is a good idea. Like some dresses, they may look great on the hanger but when I try it on? Um…no! Why did I ever think that red sequin dress would flatter my curves? Conversely, maybe you try out a new idea and it excels; it changes things for the better. You never know until you try it out.
  12. Iterate. My favorite word today…iterate. We need to abandon the concept of perfect. No such thing. Try something out and iterate on it. I used to spend months and months behind the magic black curtain getting a new project just right and then release it with a bang. Ta-da! Only then did I find out that things had changed rendering this new project not valuable. To be agile and fast-paced, we must commit to pushing out ideas that are good enough, solicit feedback, note the current environment and make them better.

As we are thinking about new ideas and new ways of approaching our work, don’t force it. Do things that allow your brain to think freely. Pay attention to what you are thinking about when gardening, running or reading. Always have something near you to jot down an idea in your phone or on a notepad. Connect with others and give it a whirl. You never know what the outcome will be.

When you reflect on 2020: 9 lessons I am carrying into 2021

So much has been written and reported about 2020 that I can hardly add any more to the breadth of writing that has been published, pushed and posted this past year.

Everyone embraced 2020 as a shiny new decade. I remember back around 2005, there were many business articles and white papers published about what society and business would look like in 2020. This seemed to be a magic year — a turning point to become a more efficient, integrated, global society and we spent the last 15 years preparing for “something” to happen in 2020. I am not sure anyone, but a few experts, predicted what we experienced in 2020.

I recently listened to a podcast from Marie Forleo talking with Rha Goddess, an author and coach. Rha mentioned that 2020 was a “time-out” year — meaning we were put in time-out like a child who misbehaved. This really struck a cord with me. I hadn’t really thought about it that way.

Like many of you, I have been wondering why our lives took such radical and extreme turns this past year — everything from the pandemic to politics, violence, division, social justice, and protests. Thinking about this idea that we were put in a time-out really resonates with me. Perhaps we were moving so fast into the future that we neglected the present.

Any mindfulness journal or book focuses on being present and being in the present. Eckhart Tolle wrote a book called, The Power of Now, which I highly recommend, about this topic. Maybe this past year was a giant, universal…Hey! Pay Attention to Now! Whether this is the reason or not, I believe we were forced to look at ourselves, how we work, how we parent, how we manage our lives, communities and businesses more than any other time.

I focused my time differently as did many of us. I tried to make the most of a new routine. While I didn’t realize it, I took advantage of the universal time-out to think about what I had done, which I never did when I was punished as a child, what I was spending my time on, how I was acting and thinking, where I put my energy and passion, and, what triggered my anxiety. The word that comes to mind is “intentional”. Maybe this is an over-used word by now but whenever we are granted a time-out, whether we do this ourselves or the universe hands us one, it is best to take advantage of it. We can spend some time on our intentions and determine if our actions align to them.

I know many of us have hope for 2021, and we have a lot of reasons to be hopeful. There are some lessons, a-has, ideas, positive ju-ju and other random items I found in 2020 that I don’t want to forget —that I want to carry forth with me always.

  1. Maximize time. My lifetime excuse for not doing what I wanted to do is that I didn’t have enough time. 2020 removed an extensive commute for me and, therefore, gave me more time. Once I converted that time into other actions, I found I had even more time. 2020 took away my biggest excuse and allowed me to plan and spend my time on what matters to me. This was my biggest gift from 2020. There was nowhere to go and no distractions gnawing at me from the fringe. I had no choice but to use my time effectively.
  2. Be thankful. I have read many times about keeping a gratitude journal as a way of getting into a positive frame of mind. I have done that but have stopped many times. While I don’t keep a gratitude journal, I have spent time recognizing all that I have and now spend less time on what I don’t have. I have enough. This is something that has taken me years to realize. Not that I don’t have goals and other achievements to come in my life, but I don’t stew on those things that are missing. I maximize that newfound time to go get them.
  3. Realize the value of pets and relationships. I love my dog. 2020 showed me that I really love my dog. He is 85 pounds and serves as a body pillow from time to time. He is one of my biggest stress relievers. His unconditional love gives me great comfort. My partner, family and close friends do the same. Nothing has tested live-in relationships as 2020. I figured when this all started we would see stronger relationships or perhaps more divorces. I am pleased to say that I have heard more about relationships becoming stronger in these times than the opposite. We may take for granted those closest to us; 2020 showed us how grateful we need to be for those people. I admit that I have lost touch with some of my acquaintances. One of my goals for 2021 is to connect to more people.
  4. Appreciate technology. Even though we are all Zoom’ed out, I realize that I have taken technology for granted. Because of technology, I can work from home. I can be my most productive self using technology. Technology has helped push me to exercise and be healthy. Technology has allowed me to see my parents when I cannot be there in person. Technology has allowed me to write and share my experiences and tips with anyone who wants to read them. I have my bouts of yelling at my PC when Webex freezes or my VPN gets clogged but we are blessed if we have computers, devices and Wi-Fi when others may not.
  5. Allow for flexibility. I have written about this before as a manager. We need to have more compassion for people and their situations. Now, even when we get to the place of minimizing or even eliminating the pandemic, we should remember this sense of compassion for what others maybe going through. We have proven we can work from home effectively. We have proven that deadlines can be met even when someone isn’t at their desk in full view 8-9 hours/day. Keeping this sense of trust, compassion and allowing others to be flexible will be returned to us in terms of loyalty and productivity.
  6. Recognize that we rock. Managing change is so big that it has evolved into a discipline with frameworks mixed of strategy, process, technology and psychology. If nothing else, 2020 has proved that we can be resilient and we can change….on a dime as it turns out! Oftentimes, an external force is the greatest motivator to change. That is certainly true here. The key is maintaining that ability to change and stay motivated even when there isn’t a great external force at play. I plan to keep this mindset and ability to shift top of mind as I think we will continually evolve coming out of what we experienced in 2020.
  7. Live in the present. I am a huge planner. I have many lists, visuals, goals and a forward-thinking mentality to get me where I want to go. 2020 taught me to keep that but to also be in the now. Breathe, look around, appreciate the now, and don’t be too many steps ahead. Around April, I caught myself waiting…waiting for the pandemic to pass, waiting for restrictions to be lifted, waiting to go back to “normal”. Waiting for something to change is a waste. Living in the present means taking advantage of every moment we have to focus on what matters. I stopped waiting and started doing.
  8. Balance mind-body-spirit. I have always believed in balance. The saying that the body fuels the mind has always been true. 2020 has proven that we must balance this three-legged stool to be our most productive, satisfied, fulfilled selves. The role that sleep, exercise, food, water plays with how I show up at the Webex meeting with senior leaders at 8 am is huge. Squeezing in the 10-minute recharging meditation first thing in the morning truly shapes how my day will go. I never thought there was such a relationship here until I focused on this and saw results.
  9. Think about legacy. While being in the now and planning for my goals, I have thought more about my legacy more than ever. Maybe it is because I am getting older, but this year has forced me to think big, to think about what I want to be known for, and how I want people to describe me when I am gone. This is definitely NOT living in the present but it motivates how I will feel and what I will do in my present. When I look back when I am 80, what will have mattered, what will not have mattered. Thinking about this has shifted what I spend my energy on — emotional and physical.

I am sure you have your list. If you don’t have one, don’t let 2020 go by without reflecting on your lessons and deciding what to carry with you, and, conversely, what to leave behind. While I don’t have a huge list of what I will be leaving behind, I do have one very big thing — wasting emotional energy on things I cannot control.

This is what I will work on in the present in 2021. Things outside of our control, like a pandemic, choices of others, how others react to us, how others manage, should be items we recognize, feel and then let go. Here’s to carrying forth the positive lessons and leaving the bad ju ju behind.