Art by Artem Chebokha.
What do entrepreneurs, political role models, and ancient Greek philosophers have in common?
They each started with an idea.
"Good ideas are always crazy until they're not." - Elon Musk.
Here is my three-step framework for accelerating creative thought:
1. Consume. Consume a diverse assortment of information, experiment, meet new people and expose yourself to novel ways of thinking.
2. Capture. Capture everything curious you encounter into a second brain. The second brain can be physical, such as a notecard system, or digitised, using apps like Evernote, Notion or Roam.
3. Create. Create new things by using the knowledge gathered to form novel connections. Provide space for the links to manifest by building moments of solitude into your life to digest the material.
Each of these steps increases the odds of generating creative ideas.
Creativity is nothing more than two ideas coming together and forming something new. Steve Jobs once said in an interview with Wired magazine:
"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesise new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people."
Expose yourself to a broader array of information to increase creative thought. The more packets of data you collect, which I'll call dots, the more optionality you have for breeding them.
The easiest way of collecting dots is to develop habits and systems that compound. Create a daily reading routine; five minutes of a book each morning adds up. Listen to podcasts in the car, or while cooking. Look for any excuse to call a friend and have an engaging debate.
Another visual analogy could be imaging the information as blocks:
"The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles will become. Because if we only have one color and one shape, it greatly limits how much we can create, even within our one area of expertise." - Maria Popova.
There arises a potential pitfall once you've built these systems. A lack of inspiration. This feeling occurs when you're not collecting enough dots through not reading widely enough or experiencing new things. This lack of exploration keeps you running on the same tracks and in the same thought patterns. The easiest fix is broadening the scope of what you intake. Step outside of your comfort zone with the material you consume. But, never try to force exploration. Let your curiosity lead you, as you never know where the next dot will emerge from that contributes to your creative work.
Having a second brain isn't a novel concept. Writers such as Robert Greene and Ryan Holiday have spoken about their notecard system for collecting information.
I prefer the digital route. Over the last few years, there have been countless applications built for this purpose. There are even thousands of students who partake in an online course about building a second brain each year.
One practical application of building a second brain is to leverage the information you consume. In an economy driven by creative thought, ideas are the new currency. Offloading the dots, you're collecting into a second brain gives your mind the bandwidth to form serendipitous connections between them.
David Allen said it best:
"Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them."
Now comes the playfulness process of smashing these dots together to create originative ideas.
"A wise old owl lived in an oak,
The more he saw, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard,
Now, wasn't he a wise old bird?" - Edward Hersey Richards.
Out of silence comes the greatest creativity.
Many fear solitude. They avoid it at all costs. The trepidation arises not from the absence of noise, but the voice inside their heads.
"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." - Blaise Pascal.
I do appreciate, many of us can't take an hour to meditate. A more effortless practice you can implement today is to settle into solitude. When you find yourself surrounded by silence, sit there, and listen, without looking for a distraction.
If you don't have any moments of solitude in your life, try to be present during the dull, daily chores. The moment you step away from work, inspiration has a weird way of striking. Ideas often occur when lightly occupied with another task. The less time spent in silence, the less chance you have to stumble across an insight.
I suggested under 'capture' how listening to podcasts in the car or while cooking is a habit worth building. But, the essential part of this framework is to not prioritise one stage over another. If you can't seek out silence, don't spend every second absorbing information. It can be tough to think up ideas when frequently consuming the thoughts of others.
Collect information from everywhere.
Capture everything into a second brain.
Create by reviewing the information and building pockets of solitude into your life.
The design of this framework is to increase the probability of combinatorial creativity occurring.
Combinatorial creativity aims to dispel the myth that people conjure ideas from some void and authentic; original thought doesn't exist. It proposes that creative thinking is our mind forming novel connections, birthing the inventions we call genius.
I'll leave you with an important lesson I recently learned about ideas.
"You have a million bad ideas as an artist; it's your job to get them out so the good ones can follow." - Neil Gaiman.