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My #1 tip for becoming an Idea Machine
👉 build your capacity to generate great ideas
When it comes to writing valuable and interesting emails, a ready supply of good ideas for those emails is the foundation.
Sure, you can turn an OK idea into a good email with a great story or excellent writing. But it’s much, much easier if you start off with a decent idea for those emails in the first place.
I’ve shared with you the brainstorming prompts I use to come up with good ideas for emails quickly in the Email Topic Toolkit.
But the other important thing you should be doing is building your capacity to generate great ideas. To become an Idea Machine.
You become an idea machine, in my experience at least, from three things:
Regularly “exercising” your idea-generating muscles by trying to think of new things on a regular basis. James Altucher has suggested starting each day by brainstorming 10 ideas on specific but random topics. I find that brainstorming ideas for emails at least 3 times a week keeps me in trim.
Taking notes. Our memories are pretty feeble tools when it comes to remembering ideas. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of waking up in the night with a brilliant idea, thinking “that’s genius…I’ll work on it in the morning”, then by morning, you’ve completely forgotten what the idea was.
So actually writing down the ideas that strike you during the day (or night) is vital. Otherwise you’ll lose them.
But the very act of writing things down is also a process of creation. Having to articulate it on paper shapes that idea up and improves it - and triggers other ideas too.
Feeding your brain. You need to feed your brain decent raw material that it can turn into ideas. And the best raw material is to read interesting stuff outside your field.
The concept of the “adjacent possible” was introduced in biology by Stuart Kauffman and extended into the world of creativity and ideas by Steven Johnson. The core of the concept is that new things tend not to be created inside a discipline nor far away from it, but instead at the fringes where it touches other areas.
So for example, if you wanted to generate new ideas about email newsletters you wouldn’t feed your brain only with writing about newsletters. You’d go wider to content marketing more generally. Then wider to marketing more generally on one front and writing more generally on the other. You might look as far out as other fields that need to generate ideas and communicate them - like the arts.
All of those could be good sources of new thinking you could apply to email newsletters. But you probably wouldn’t learn much from astrophysics or medicine - they’re just too distant.
So the idea here is that whatever your field, you should be reading around the topic and deliberately looking outside your core discipline. And taking notes, and practising incorporating those ideas into your own field.
If I look back at the best ideas I’ve had about email newsletters they’ve almost all come from transferring in ideas from outside the field. Some recent ones have come from concepts I saw from professional writers and editors. An upcoming one is from a Youtuber applied to email.
And discovering those ideas came from very deliberately exploring topics outside the normal ones I’d look at.
And that really is my #1 tip for becoming an idea machine. It’s to draw up similar concentric circles of topics for your own field like I have for email marketing. Then when you have a bit of time for reading, look outside your field into one of those wider circles.
It’ll help you generate more and better ideas.
And it’ll make you a more interesting person too!
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