How to Have GREAT Ideas

This is from the Twitter Q&A I do every Thursday but the answer got so big I wanted to put it in it’s own post. Also, this solves an issue that is coming up every day in this economy:

(good ideas can take various forms)

  • And this post is not just about coming up with ideas to get rich. It’s about ideas to help yourself be a better person. It’s about ideas to help the people around you. It’s about ideas to help people you don’t even know and make the world a better place. It’s how I saved my life.

HOW TO HAVE GREAT(!) IDEAS

Ishant Krishna@i_ishantkrishna I am confused about the “concept of ideas”. Please  elaborate more on the basics of producing more productive ideas.

ANSWER

I want you to be an idea machine. For the past 20 years all I’ve done is come up with ideas. Most of them bad, horrible. Ugly, stupid. I got thrown out of graduate school for having too many bad ideas. I wrote four unpublished novels. I’ve had 20 businesses in a row fail on me.

I lost the first home I bought. I lost all my money. Fifteen million cash. I went to zero. I was literally crying on the floor while my baby was crawling over to me to get to her toys. I couldn’t get a loan of a few hundred dollars just to ensure I could provide diapers and food for the weekend. From my own parents! Nobody trusted me.

But WHENEVER I’ve been stuck on the floor I knew the only way to kick into action was to start building my idea muscle again. Because it is in those moments that my brain had become smaller, damaged, and my idea muscle had atrophied. And from that moment it takes six months (on average) to 100% change my life around.

If you were sick in bed for ten days and then tried to walk you wouldn’t be able to. How come? Because your leg muscles have atrophied. Just two weeks of non-use and you might need six months of therapy to walk normally again.

We’re in a world that is running 1000 miles per hour. If you let your leg muscles atrophy you will get left behind.

The idea muscles in your mind are the EXACT same way. They atrophy in about ten days of non-use.

STEP 1: WRITE A LIST EVERY DAY OF IDEAS

So start now, every day list 10 ideas. I make a list every day. It can be a list on anything. Today I did a list of 10 kindle singles I can write. One of them I will pick and do within the next 2-3 weeks.

The other day I did a list of ideas I could maybe use as standup material.

The day before that I did a list of 5 Ways in which Procrastination is Great.

In my first successful business, Reset, I would come up with 10 ideas a day for each of my clients. Ideas that could help them improve their websites.

In my business, Stockpickr, I would come up with at least 10 new ideas for features every day.

(i have 100s of waiters pads lying around with ideas listed from the past 20 years)

When I was running my fund of funds I would come up with 10 ideas a day to get new clients.

Other days I make list of businesses I can start. And some days I make list of features that can be added to businesses I’ve already started. Or blog post ideas. I have 80 blog posts in my Drafts folders as a result. Most of them have good lists but I’m not satisfied with the writing yet.

So what happens after a year: you have 3650 ideas. Out of those maybe one or two might be decent.

BUT, the more you do it, the better the muscle is. Then people will start saying, “Man, you are an IDEA MACHINE!”

I want you to be an idea machine. I really want it for selfish reasons. I need some help on something. Once you are ready you can give me ideas on where this blog is going.

STEP 2: WHAT IS AN IDEA? An idea is not just “I will start an airline for outerspace”. That may or may not be a good idea. An idea is a tuplet. It looks like this:

[idea, spec of the whole idea, next step to execute, timeline]

So, for instance, if I have an idea for a Kindle Single it might look like

["I am Running for Vice-President" kindle single, (then I list the table of contents), expand these 5 blog posts and then write X,Y,Z original material, download the kindle single guidelines from Amazon and then put the text in the right format and upload to Amazon, I can work on it for 3 hours a day and be done by next week]

THAT is a full idea. Write ten of those.

STEP 3: IDEAS HAVE SEX JUST LIKE PEOPLE DO. AND ITS VERY PORNOGRAPHIC

I bet you didn’t know that ideas have sex. And they have children.

The more ideas you have running around in your little rabbit cage, the more rabbits you will get. And generations evolve fast. When I started Stockpickr it was the mating of my ideas on the Internet with my ideas for a new hedge fund. The best ideas always come from mating. Think of Hollywood. When they pitch an idea its never just “I have this idea”. Its always “It’s “James Bond” meets “the Titanic” ”

Hollywood pitches are all about mating ideas. Ditto for Silicon Valley pitches. Ditto for any pitch. Why can’t people say, “its like James Bond”. Because James Bond has already been done. But when you says “its like X +Y”  then people all lean back and their beautiful imaginations begin to dance with your idea. What does it look like when you mate X and Y. Its IDEA PORNOGRAPHY! Its art. Its beauty.

(the art of Steampunk is a beautiful mating of ideas)

Let’s look at Google! The best company in the world.

Google came from ideas in search (which was a failing industry at the time) mating with ideas about what makes scientific research papers important (how many citations from other papers refer to a paper). These were totally separate ideas that had never been mated before. And guess who came up with the idea? Did you just think Larry Page!? WRONG! Did you think Robin Li, who started Baidu? Then yes! But he was working at Dow Jones at the time who couldn’t figure out what to do with his idea. So he left the one company that reports on capitalism, he left the most capitalist country in the world for the most communist country, and set up his company there.

How come? Because ideas have no geographic boundaries.

STEP FOUR: PASSION

You can have a one night stand. But if you don’t have true passion for an idea you’ll never get married and have children.

It’s ok to not have passion. You have 3650 ideas per year. If you had passion for each idea I’d say you were an idea slut. Just relax already.

When you have passion here’s what happens:

A) you read everything you can about the history of the idea.

B) you read everything you can about the science of the idea.

C) you build the idea. Now your idea is not just one idea but 100s. It’s a family of ideas. Passion multiplies an idea very quickly. Because every day you are coming up with ten new ideas to make your original idea better. You are coming up with features, design ideas, distribution ideas.

I will give you an example. I have an idea. Every day I’m coming up with ideas to add to the original idea: gamification, voyeurism, distribution, other ways that I can help people with the idea, other groups of people I can help and how, ideas for the UI, ideas to add content, ideas for people I can involve, ideas for partnership. And I read books every day about different aspects of  the idea.

And STILL the idea might not work. But I have passion for it.

What does passion really mean?

It means two things. That you are in love. And also that nobody can beat you. When I started Stockpickr I had passion for it. Some business school students out of Stanford had a similar idea. They lost badly. Because they thought this could be like a school project. You don’t date and marry a beautiful girl because it’s a homework assignment. You do it because you have passion for her and you want to do everything you can to make sure she’s happy.

(I wanted to make a better racquet for Maria but I didn’t have the passion)

Another example. A friend of mine had an idea for a new type of tennis racquet. I liked the idea. I bought all sorts of books about the science of making a tennis racquet plus the history of it. And then you know what? I got bored by the fifth date. I lost the passion. So I stopped. And now I have all this useless knowledge in my head of how to build a tennis racquet. But you know? Maybe ten years from now that knowledge will mate with another idea and the Messiah of all ideas could be born.

You never know.

So I am going to tell you what to do right now (a summary of above) and in six months your life will be completely different.

A) eat healthy, sleep a lot, and exercise. Your body needs to have oxygen and blood flowing properly to your brain to come up with ideas.

B) get rid of all negative people. They will turn your ideas into vomit before the words even leave your mouth.

C) make a list of ten ideas per day as described EXACTLY above. Keep track of all your ideas. I have ideas from 2002 I think are good that I still have not implemented yet but I know I will.

D) Be grateful you have this opportunity to come up with ten ideas a day. Say “thanks, world, for letting me do this.”

E) And wait. Be patient. Don’t criticize your ideas. A bad father can produce a beautiful son. Every idea has healthy sperm. Your first few ideas once you start following this post, are like the first few times you had sex (uhhh, if you are anything like me). They usually involve some sort of apology. But at least you are no longer a virgin. Now go forth and multiply!

F) If your ideas require research, then read. Wikipedia is a good start. Never stop reading. But what you read is important. If you read shit then your brain will become malnourished. I will put together a good reading list. But you already know what is good for you and what isn’t.

You are an IDEA MACHINE! An Idea Warrior. Now your body and mind must flourish and you must do all of the above. Then success and dreams will come true. How much time will it take? If you do the above: six months for at least one good idea. Six months and your life will be completely different. Give yourself about 3-5 years to get rich. But never be upset about the pace.

You are the idea warrior, about to conquer great worlds and kingdoms in other dimensions other than this meager and petty one. I am envious of the adventure you will embark on. Because it will be exciting and the first time you realize that ideas that spring out of your head are actually helping people will be the best moment in your life. I know because I’ve been there. And I’m never going to stop.

Follow me on Twitter to see when I launch my next idea.

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