Idea Generation Techniques

Ideas do not come from a magical land. Although chance is an element of life, ideas are not solely pure chance gifts bestowed on some destined recipient. Idea generation techniques create quality ideas. Hard work creates opportunity.

I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have. – Coleman Cox

First, all idea generation techniques are variations on:

  1. Input
  2. Process
  3. Output

Successful techniques alter input and process to create better outputs. Initially, do not worry about idea quality. Quantity is more important. Ideas will naturally develop and evolve with constant generation. In the product development process, later steps will formally define and validate ideas.

Idea Generation Techniques

Inspiration is Input

Get positive information overload. Entrepreneurship is popular. Find pitch events, business talks, hackathons, classes, and anything that inspires creativity. Listen to podcasts and TED talks. Watch business documentaries and shows. Read books. Get input. Process how the information applies to your market, problem, product, or customer.


Traditional brainstorming sessions can feel forced. The probability of all involved parties instantly becoming creative, positive, and engaged is remote at best. Optional classes, clubs, and talks are filled with stimulated people ready to engage. Ideas flow naturally with higher creative energy. The groups are voluntary not sequestered for a grade or quota.

Surround yourself with engaged people. Talk to them. Brainstorming is natural.


Develop ideas with routine. Creativity is a skill you can develop with practice. In Choose Yourself, James Altucher describes his routine of generating 10 ideas per day to become an “idea machine.” Writing a single idea can be difficult at first. Repetition is key. Set aside a specific time and place to write ideas. Routine builds on psychological principles creating repeatable, focused state.

The morning is best for me. Before social media, commuting, or email, I write ideas in a journal. A tablet, laptop, or phone is filled with distractions. Every morning, right after reading I write. Test different routines. Find something that works for you.

Fix What Bugs You

Change your mindset to see problems as potential opportunities. One of the most interesting outcomes of the idea generation routine is the shift in mindset to observation. Ideas are everywhere.
Paul Akers and his team at FastCap produce hundreds (or thousands) of improvements with the philosophy of “Fix What Bugs You.” The effort has translated into hundreds of products, millions of dollars, and an inspiring company.

Asana is a software product enabling teams to manage projects and communication from start to finish. The product started as an internal tool at Facebook. The founding team saw an opportunity to reduce email and increase collaboration. Now, Asana is a leader in a new breed of project management tools.


Meditation has documented mental and physical health benefits. Many people disinterested by the “new age” component would be surprised by the current supporting research. Simple quiet can have tremendous benefits to idea generation.

Eliminate distractions. Turn off the smartphone.

Quiet allows the conscience mind to access the solutions from background processing. Increases in dopamine from relaxation aid processing and delivery. This is part of the answer to the shower thoughts phenomenon.


Mind Maps

Mind mapping creates a visual, taxonomic organization of related concepts. Sir Isaac Newton was an early user. Minds maps are

Note Clipping Software

Catalog the information you browse, read, and discover. Experiment with the available tools. Recording information in a central, searchable format has serious advantages.

  • Evernote
  • OneNote
  • Google Keep


I have always carried a sketchbook. Using a Moleskine or some similar flat opening journal is the most natural choice for me.

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