How Groundbreaking Thinkers Come Up with New Ideas

When we consider groundbreaking thinkers who have shaped the world we live in today, from Bill Gates to Henry Ford, we don’t often expect to hear stories of people overcoming failure on their road to success. But this is actually very often the case – precisely because groundbreaking thinkers by definition are working against the odds, shaking the status quo, and making people question the way they live, work and think.

Coming up with new ideas that challenge the perceived norm is not easy. But neither is it an innate gift reserved for a few – much of the skill needed to come up with groundbreaking new ideas can actually be learned, practised and then applied by any of us.

In her book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, Dorie Clark points out that coming up about new ideas is as much about making the world a better place as it is about self-promotion – and the creative and critical thinking required to come up with groundbreaking new ideas can actually be the ultimate in career insurance. We are still some way off artificial intelligence having the power to creatively outthink the human mind, so get honing these skills now while we still can!

Want to know how to come up with new ideas like the real innovators of our times? Here are five ways to get started on finding your own groundbreaking new idea.

See Also: How to Generate New Ideas

1. Don't Imagine It's Luck

The keystone message when it comes to creating groundbreaking ideas is that it’s hard work. Sorry to break this so bluntly, but there is very little luck involved in any form of creativity.

It might be a comforting thought to imagine that creativity is a gift endowed to only some of us – but this is not really the case. There’s a reason that it took Edison a thousand attempts to produce a working light bulb. Coming up with something that is genuinely new is difficult, but the people whose names go down in history as groundbreaking thinkers did not give up despite early (and in some cases, frequent) failures. Knuckle down if you want to succeed.

2. Challenge the Status Quo

Coming up with new and groundbreaking ideas can be a challenge, simply because you’re trying to do something neither you – nor anyone else – has ever achieved before. Challenging the status quo can be disheartening as people will line up to tell you that you can’t. The truly groundbreaking thinkers will take no heed. Returning to Edison and his 1,000 attempts at creating a light bulb, he is reputed to have responded rather sharply to a journalist who asked him what it felt like to fail 1,000 times: "I did not fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps".

This iterative mentality is what drives startups and software developers these days. If you aspire to original thought, be prepared to fail, and be prepared for others to expect you to fail. Just keep on keeping on, nonetheless.

3. Apply Thinking From One Field to Another

Many groundbreaking thinkers have created something new by applying their knowledge and thinking from one field into another. Coming up with ideas actually doesn’t always involve creating something new. It is more often an exercise in spotting and developing on connections that are already there, and this is where looking at a problem with a different perspective can frequently help.

If you’re trying to come up with new ideas for something, try to engage other areas of your own experience and thinking. Say you’re trying to come up with a new saleable product or application. Are you thinking about this from a professional standpoint or engaging your whole brain? Even if there is a part of your life that feels quite separate to this “work” activity, it might help trigger the thinking you need to develop new ideas. How can your hobbies, friends, the city you live in, your age, and your life experience be put to use in your thought process to give you the broadest platform from which to generate new ideas?

4. Ask the Right Questions

If there is little in groundbreaking creativity that is genuinely new, there is also little that is completely independent of input from others. Ask the right questions to help you understand and advance your own thinking. Once again, let’s say you’re trying to come up with a new product. What have people said recently about what’s bugging them? What issues do you see, no matter how small they might be, from the conversations you have with others around you? Ask as many questions of others as you can, get exposed to as many different people as you can, and stay open to ideas all the time.

The other way to apply this thinking is by looking for unexpected successes. Be curious about something that is doing well, especially if it is an unexpected success. If you are creating a product, then what ideas, trends and products have recently caused a stir – and more importantly, why? What is it about them that caught people’s imagination? How can that itch be scratched in a different way?

5. Look at Things From Another Angle

If you’re serious about coming up with groundbreaking ideas, one of the most important things to learn is not to self-censor. It feels uncomfortable, as we are trained right from school that we should really think things through before opening our mouths and that some ideas are simply bad. That’s a little like measuring Picasso’s art against a classical portrait – it misses the point entirely, as Picasso saw something different and created something new with it.

Put the negative thoughts aside and focus on generating ideas. You have plenty of time later to assess their merit. If you struggle with the imagination to do this, try to stretch your brain a bit – figure out 50 ways to use a teacup, for example. Or watch Shimpei Takahashi’s TED talk in which he suggests playing games to find words and trying to find ways to connect seemingly unconnected ideas into something new. The talk is in Japanese, but click through for interactive subtitles, and maybe a little shot of a different language will stimulate your brain anyway!

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See Also: How to Generate Good Ideas Naturally

Although groundbreaking thinkers have fundamentally changed the way the world works, their experience of the world does not differ so much from that of everyone else. Intelligence and experience were probably less crucial to their ability to come up with new ideas than perseverance and proactivity. And while in many ways it would be satisfying to imagine that they were simply born with the talents needed to really make an impact on the world, the truth is far more complex.

Any one of us can come up with new ideas, and these might be the thoughts people look back on as the groundbreaking moments of our time. But it takes effort and courage, and an ability to bounce back even when everyone else tells you that your idea stinks. Keep on going, and as Dorie Clark says, your ability to think in a way that is different to others might just be what makes you really stand out.

What process do you use to come up with groundbreaking ideas in your life and career? Let us know in the comments section below!




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