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Steve Alvest


How a Handful of Habits Can Make You a Creative Genius

This list is adapted from an article on my website, Shock Notes.


Can anybody consistently come up with great, creative ideas? Linus Bille, author of THE IDEATION EQUATION: How a Handful of Habits Can Make You a Creative Genius, certainly thinks so. In his book, Linus first surveys the psychology literature to discuss established theories on creativity. Then he presents metaphors for how the human brain comes up with ideas, before teaching his own framework, “The Ideation Equation,” which provides habits you can form to become a creative genius.

Here are my favorite twelve takeaways:

    1. There are many ideation frameworks out there

    Some well known ideation frameworks include: Design Thinking, Concept-Knowledge Design Theory, SCAMPER, TRIZ, Systematic Inventive Thinking, and Lateral Thinking

    2. The five factors of ideation

    The Ideation Equation also entails five distinct factors (I refrain from using ‘steps’):

    1. Learn about all sorts of random things
    2. Expand your thinking box
    3. Make use of your brain’s innate ability to connect things
    4. Take control by marinating in a specific challenge
    5. Capture and make sense of your brain’s magic.

    3. The perfect environment for creativity

    It appears that the best environment for creative thinkers to live in is a quiet area outside of a big city. That way, you live in an area where you can easily enter “float” state, but you can also regularly meet with creative friends in the city.

    4. Marinate in the problem

    What you want to do is to learn everything about the problem; as much and as fast as you possibly can (but not too fast). My favourite way of expressing this task is to ‘marinate in the problem’.

    5. Enter the “float” state

    As you start to lose focus, and begin to feel bored, let go of your plans for the ranger. Leave it to roam freely, try to enter a state of float, but stay as close as you can – be your own gentle psychoanalyst. “Help your brain stay bored and diffused, yet productive, by stimulating it in particular ways. Take a long shower or a bath, or a walk in a calm and safe environment. If you want to shut the world out, do not listen to an audiobook or regular music, but choose something with a lot of white noise and soft-sounding randomness, such as light rain sounds, slow waves against the shore, winds in the treetops, or something similar.

    6. What to feed your brain

    follow your lust and intuition from one subject to the next. In fact this is key to really nurture your curiosity – your passion for learning and questioning what you, and anyone really, knows about anything. One could argue that there are two implicit rules embedded in this third principle: never try to find ‘useful’ new knowledge for your inner rainforest, you can only know in hindsight what became useful anyway; and never exclude any type of learning that you feel inclined to explore, not even stuff that you think you already know.

    7. Make time for random learning

    A habit you should adopt: Make time for random learning in your schedule. 20 minutes every morning, or three hours spread out over three different days of the week, or every Sunday from sunrise to sunset. Whatever works for you. Make sure this learning is fun, follow your curiosity, and let go of all ‘judgement’ regarding usefulness of the information that you indulge!

    8. Overwhelm your vision

    Two of my favourite vision overwhelming exercises use fractionalised sunlight to turn off the brain’s focus on making sense of sight. One is to sit by the ocean, and watch the sun glitter in the water; the other is to lay on my back in a large bird’s-nest swing that I have hung up in the forest where I live, and watch the sun shine through the countless leaves in the canopy above me. As I explained previously, direct your sensory input to the peripheral, and your brain will soon give up on trying to make sense of what it is seeing.

    9. Recycle your bad ideas

    never throw away ideas! At least, not ideas that cannot immediately be assessed as either good or bad. But even ideas that have features that can immediately be labelled as ‘bad’ are often valuable starting points for other ideas… [idea recycling ecosystem:] System one: ideas that I cannot put into any particular short-term context, or are obviously much too early, I simply place in my digital calendar as recurring events every six or twelve months, forever. This ensures that my calendar provides me with constant reminders of old ideas that I still have not used.

    10. Ideate around impossible concepts

    A good principle when designing more challenging thought-experiments is to put something ‘impossible’ as a central concept. Meaning that, “what if I was the CEO”, as an example, is not a very challenging idea to explore, even if it may be tempting. Let us use this example as a sign that you want to explore management principles at your workplace. Then, instead, ask yourself something along the lines of “what if all companies were democracies?”, or perhaps “what if becoming a CEO meant one only had 3 years left to live?”, or something else that ‘makes no sense’, but nonetheless forces you to think in a much-expanded box, or perhaps even an entirely different box than the one within which you are currently trapped.

    11. Always be collecting raw material

    always be collecting a broad variety of raw material, or ‘dots’. First-hand experience has taught me that my ideaflow – the quality and quantity of my creative output – is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of my inputs. My preferred sources of input are books, podcasts, online newsletters, Google Scholar, documentaries, and thoughtful conversations with other people who are as deeply into collecting dots as I am.

    12. Free software that may be useful for ideation

    consolidate and connect ideas and insights in Obsidian – a free software that I use as my personal knowledge management system, or digital library.

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