When I presented my latest "big idea" to the Interphase board of directors in 2010, one of those directors followed me to my office and said "an idea like this comes once in a lifetime." When I asked him why he thought that way, he said: "because great ideas are accidental!" Well, I don't believe that. I think great ideas might appear accidental, but are the result of a process that you can control. 

I often ask people where and when they get their best ideas. More than 70% reply: "in the shower." Now, I admit, I'm an immigrant to this country, but do you Americans spend 70% of your days in the shower to have your ideas generated there?

I didn't think so... So why, then?

One of the first to write about the cognitive process of generating ideas was James Webb Young, who wrote A Technique for Producing Ideas in 1939 (Got it for $1.89 on Kindle). Young believed that ideas are combinations of pieces you need to have in your brain to start with. He described five steps: 

  1. Gather as many "idea parts" as you can in your head. 
  2. Let them incubate for a while.
  3. Don't force making the combinations. You can't. It will happen involuntarily (although, as you will see, you can cause it to happen "involuntarily.")
  4. All of a sudden, the idea will come. "It will come to you when you are least expecting it -- while shaving, or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night."

  5. The business plan. This is when your idea needs to turn into reality. When rubber meets the road. 

But there is a step missing here. Although Young alluded to it when he said (about the third stage): "drop the problem completely and turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. Listen to music, go to the theater or movies, read poetry or a detective story."

You see, there is a triggering mechanism that comes to play. All those pieces of ideas, that have no value by themselves, are in your head. They have been there for a while. It will be an unexpected moment when they come out, combine, and become something great. But you need to trigger this moment.

I'm not sure about reading poetry, but I can tell you that going through an intense experience will certainly trigger the a-ha! moment. If you want to watch a "triggering" movie--watch Star Wars. Don't watch It's a Wonderful Life...

And better yet--start a dangerous hobby. For me, it started with taking flying lessons, and then riding my CBR 600 RR racing motorcycle. Now it is flying radio controlled jets at speeds faster than 130 Mph. Seriously, I fly 10-pound planes faster than I ever drove a car. 

The day after flying a plane, riding your motorcycle, or practicing any other dangerous, intense hobby or experience--you will have ideas. Many ideas. In the shower. At night. Wherever. And this is why. 

So, if you needed an excuse to buy a motorcycle, take flying lessons, or start building and flying radio controlled jets--now you have it!