Practicing Ideation

We have all seen this situation in a movie. The heroes are trapped in what looks like certain death. They need to come up with an escape play quickly … and somehow they do. After all, that’s why they are heroes, right?

But what about in real life? Franklin famously pointed out that it is amazing how the sight of a noose sharpens the mind. And in my experience, this exactly describes why some of us need deadlines in order to produce work of value. The deadline is the proverbial “noose”.

But can we get better at coming up with ideas without that kind of pressure? Some think that the answer is “yes”.  They argue that if you practice coming up with ideas each day, you will get better at ideation. I think this is partially true and it is a pretty interesting subject.

Every professional writer gives the following advice: if you want to be a writer, write every day. Don’t think that you can do this without the practice. Nearly all of what you produce will be poor quality. That is part of the process of getting better at your craft. And at least part of that “getting better” is in coming up with ideas.

At the same time, coming up with ideas is not that big a deal. We all come up with a lot of lousy ideas. The more important work is to look at them and assess their relative value. That is why Hemingway suggested that one can write while drunk, but always be sober when you edit. Writing is in fact re-writing.

This applies more generally in strategic thinking. Great strategy does not arise from just being clever. It arises from difficult challenges that are faced head on.

So go ahead and ideate. But keep in mind that this is just a first step towards learning.

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