How to Generate Ideas

Building a Creative Pipeline

To begin answering this question, one has to assume that you do not already have ideas at hand, and you have to find them somewhere. This is pretty unlikely. You probably have many ideas waiting to be explored, but you’ve concluded they don’t quite “meet the bar”. In my essay Stop Waiting for the Ripe Idea, I share a reminder I often need that ideas don’t need to be perfect in order to be ready. Before you go exploring for more ideas, take a moment to reflect on all the ones you have sitting in a note or recurring daydream. There are likely many of them waiting to be shared.

Other times, the problem isn’t perfection-seeking, but rather a lack of a foundation for ideas to come to fruition. You’re waiting for ideas, but they never seem to come.

But the ‘waiting mindset’ is part of the problem. Ideas don’t show up out of nowhere — you have to plant their seeds, and constantly tend to your own mental garden to eventually see ideas show up. You want to develop a creative pipeline so that your ideas are always coming through you. When this happens, your biggest challenge becomes channeling them effectively, rather than finding them.

So how do you build a creative pipeline, then? The way I got started was by following David Perell’s advice on writing online. I’ve been writing consistently for over a year. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever kept up any kind of publishing cadence so consistently for so long. The consistency of this one channel (writing) has allowed me to expand on a number of different areas.

Each piece of work in my pipeline is at a different stage, and I try to push one thing forward every day if I can. I don’t want to describe this process too formally, because it really isn’t that formal. There’s a messiness-by-design in my process, driven by a desire to embrace serendipity and playfulness rather than overly structuring my life.

You don’t need to take a course or watch a video to start your moving your pipeline forward. You just need to choose a single channel of output (for example, publishing to your blog, tweeting, a podcast, etc.) to start with. It’s best to focus on one to avoid getting overwhelmed too early.

Once you have your destination, you’re ready to start feeding it. I’ll explore three key tactics to keep your pipeline running smoothly:

  1. Creative Prompts
  2. Balanced Inputs
  3. Consistent Outputs

Let’s get into it!

Creative Prompts

Constantly give yourself prompts or areas that you can then explore. As you try to answer the question, you’ll be surprised how much you have to share.

Balanced Inputs

A lot of my best writing comes through inspiration from others. In the end, most creative work is a remix upon existing ideas. Try and expand your horizons with what sort of content you consume, but make sure it’s interesting to you.

If all you do is consume content, you’ll never give your brain a chance to process anything. You need to create empty space in your life. The activity can be anything, but the key is not to engage your brain into thinking. Some options you can try:

This will give your mind a chance to actually process the information you’re taking in. Only then can you discover insights, which are the true gems worth sharing.

Paradoxically, the more headspace you clear, the more ideas will appear.

Consistent Outputs

There’s always more to the puzzle, but I think if you do embrace these 3 keys consistently, you’ll be off to a great start. Good luck!

P.S. This note is a response to the question “Where do you find ideas to write about?” You can also check out other questions I’ve answered in the FAQ section, or submit your own question.