Where do good ideas come from?

By Lyndsie Bourgon July - August 2012

Making the connection between left-brain efficiency and right-brain thought processes needs practice. Here’s how:

Where do good ideas come from? By vaXine cc Creative Commons

• Think of your problem in pictures, as opposed to words.

• Make connections. Force yourself to search for connections between two unlikely mediums. When Steve Jobs at Apple connected calligraphy and computer science, he started a home computing revolution. Architects connect the natural sciences to art. Creative coach San Persand recommends crafting arguments after watching a movie. 

• Stop looking for an answer. “Yes, sometimes we need to drink a triple espresso and sit in our cubicle, but sometimes that’s exactly backwards. Sometimes that’ll make it harder to find the right answer,” says Lehrer. Build in time for relaxation, ping-pong games, naps in the afternoon or a lunch time beer. “Sometimes our best ideas will only arise if we stop looking for them.”

• Daydream. Daydreaming is another Lehrer-approved method: It’s “an incredibly important mental state” — one in which some of our most important discoveries and ideas have been made. 

• Take care of yourself. Exercise, sleep and proper diet remain incredibly important to your brain and your work. 

• Rethink the workspace. Some of the most successful workplaces in the world model themselves after crowded public squares, where people can bump into one another and start up conversations. A lot of these conversations might be small talk, or a waste of time, but in the end those bumps add up. 

• Turn it all off. There’s a reason why most people have story ideas come to them in the shower: it’s the only time we unplug, and we can’t check our email. 

• Mind-map. Peters has an entire wall in his office that’s papered as a whiteboard. From floor to ceiling, he’s able to sit down and mind-map with clients. 

• Stay away from precedents. “If you get stuck doing that, you’ll never apply any creativity,” says Richard Orzy, a partner with a restructuring and insolvency practice at Bennett Jones in Toronto. 

• Consider your other options. Can you insource tasks to paralegals to save time? Or can you outsource other tasks to other offices? Efficiency leaves more time for taking a daydream break. 

• Industry groups within firms can help lawyers ask and answer important questions, and they’re able to tap into a knowledge bank developed by senior partners. 

• And don’t bother brainstorming. “Brainstorming is a big waste of time,” says Lehrer. “It’s the most widely implemented creativity technique. The very first rule is not to criticize, and that turns out to be a bad idea. Groups that engage in criticism, debate and dissent come up with more and better ideas than those who engage in “classical” brainstorming.” Instead, group work should be done when partners are encouraged to constructively criticize each other. 

Lyndsie Bourgon is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
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