As an entrepreneur, you're after that one, dazzlingly brilliant idea that will take the world by storm.Truly great ideas are, however, notoriously difficult to come by. They're generated within the deepest recesses of your subconscious mind, far beyond the reach of conscious thought.
How are brilliant new ideas born?
According to Graham Wallas, the co-founder of The London School of Economics, creative ideas are born in four stages:
Preparation involves filling your mind with the raw material of your idea. You incubate the idea by detaching from the problem and letting your mind wander. The illumination stage is when you experience "A-ha!" moments. Ideas surface from your subconscious mind when you least expect them and there is nothing you can do to coax them out. Finally, in the verification stage, you bring your ideas together as you converge toward a solution.
Kazuo Ishiguro's ingenious technique
According to a 2014 interview in The Guardian newspaper, Kazuo Ishiguro wrote his Nobel Prize winning novel, "The Remains of The Day" in just four weeks.
Ishiguro's creative process had one extraordinary feature. Frustration led him to an ingenious technique that somehow made his brain spawn a stream of brilliant ideas.
Preparation and incubation
Ishiguro extensively researched "books by and about British servants, about politics and foreign policy between the wars" before beginning his novel. He then wrote an opening chapter.
Following this promising start, a barrage of dinner party invitations and social engagements wrenched his attentional focus away from his manuscript. Ishiguro says these distractions put an end to "proper work" for almost a year.
Though frustrating at the time, this break likely gave Ishiguro the invaluable opportunity for incubation, the second part of the creative process.
Illumination -- the "crash"
In the summer of 1987, Ishiguro decided to block out all distractions and immerse himself into his novel until he reached "a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one." He called it his "crash".
He wrote in free hand, messily, for eight hours a day, six days of the week. His material had "awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere". Ishiguro didn't care.
He let his ideas surface and grow, and did not take phone calls, read his mail or meet anyone. His understanding wife acted as a filter for reality, while he lived, breathed and slept in the mind of a butler named Stevens.
The birth of a Nobel Prize-worthy idea
In Ishiguro's own words, this extraordinary approach triggered a series of "vital imaginative breakthroughs".
The four weeks had somehow pushed Ishiguro's mind into a state of heightened creativity where it was able to generate an incessant flood of brilliant ideas.
At the end of four weeks, "The Remains of the Day" had taken form. Ishiguro streamlined his ideas further in the last stage of his creative process to produce a novel that eventually won the 2017 Nobel Prize for literature.
The brain on creativity
When you're focusing on something in your external world, you're using a specific network of brain cells known as the "executive network". When you switch off from your outside world and let your mind wander, you use a different network, your brain's "default mode network" or DMN.
We used to think that creative ideas are generated when the DMN is active and the executive network is relatively inactive. This is why mind wandering can prompt flashes of brilliance.
Instead of detaching from his problem and letting his mind wander, Ishiguro sealed himself into his problem and let his mind wander within its defined perimeter as he followed his thoughts with great focus.
In effect, this meant he was both focusing and letting his mind wander at the same time. This likely engaged both his executive network and the DMN, prompting a collaboration between the two.
What this means for you
Advertising guru David Ogilvy said, "Big ideas come from the unconscious. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant."
If you're going through a mental block, try Ishiguro's technique of letting your mind wander while following your thoughts. Lock your mind into the world that your idea will serve and let it wander inside its perimeter. You might just come up a big idea that changes your world.