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Where Do Ideas Come From?

 “Ideas come from everything”
― Alfred Hitchcock

When I decided to design and manufacture my first product in 2017, I didn’t know at first what it would be. Not because I didn’t have any ideas, but because I had too many ideas!

Once I had committed to creating something as a part of a larger business and not just as a hobby, I had to decide on what that something would be. So I started by simply focusing on and taking note of what was interesting in the world around me. This was my starting point.

I think many would say (and I don’t necessarily disagree) that you should start a business from something you already love, are already doing, or are already good at, but I’m going to propose an alternate path that may work just as well– that you start a business based on a new idea from outside of yourself that connects with things you love, but are not necessarily doing yet, or even very good at.

Trust me… you’ll learn what you need to learn along the way.

Looking for starting points was a playful time for me, where a train I was riding on or a street I was walking down became a creative field to harvest.  What words, sounds, or music attracted me amidst a crowd? Were there any curious materials or designs in the clothes of others on the subway that appealed to me? What problems or challenges were apparent around me?

I tried this out for a number of months, and besides from being quite invigorated, I was able to harvest several notebooks full of ideas. Below are a handful of them:

  1. Distressed jeans? Let’s try distressed business suits. (2)
  2. Recyclable pen service. We come to your school or business, collect the empties and replace with new ones. (1)
  3. Woman struggling to manage her luggage down the stairs of the metro– refused my help. What can be designed for her luggage? Diagonal skis attached to the underside? (1)
  4. Interior of train is video flat-screened. Attached light-gun type aerosol cans and pens are available for riders to color and decorate the walls of the carriage. (2)
  5. Free bluetooth audiobooks streamed on trains. Just connect and get educated. (2)
  6. Concrete planters for the home and office that look like little deserted landscapes or collapsing cityscapes. Add soil, seeds, and water to beautify with bonsai, grass, etc. (3)
  7. A clothing line organized for customers just as makeup is (by seasons: summer, autumn, winter, and spring) so you can shop in your section to find color combinations particularly matched to your skin, eye, and hair tone. (2)
  8. Umbrella shafts that can be adjusted into angles so the umbrella rests naturally on one’s shoulder and relaxes the arm. (2)
  9. Grips for standing passengers on the subway that light up and play notes/different instruments when pulled a certain way. Encourages riders to make music collaboratively as well as give their seat to others. (1)
  10. A backpack made of kraft paper with an attached marker pocket in the shoulder strap for students’ friends to sign like a yearbook during graduation week. (3)

One obvious thing to point out here is that ideas are free! How great is that? The world, as they say, is your oyster… if you’re willing to fish.

Don’t forget that we are all born explorers and innovators.

One of the keys for me during this idea-collection stage was to be completely non-judgmental, and to quickly record elements and ideas that tickled me— ones that were attractive in themselves apart from any other meaning or considerations.

As mentioned, I also needed to take note of all of this so that I wouldn’t later forget. For this reason, I carried a notebook with me at all times as well as my phone with its voice recording app.

Basic gear for collecting ideas.

Later, I would review my notes and put the ideas into one of several categories:

  1. A fun idea, but probably not one to pursue.
  2. A fun idea, but not realistic or practical to pursue at this time.
  3. A fun idea worth starting immediately.

You can look back at my first list above and now see how I categorized each idea upon review. Notice that I didn’t assign them to categories in terms of being good or bad, but rather based on them being fun, practical, actionable, or not. Even category 1 ideas remain in my notebooks—they aren’t ever deleted. And category 3 is in no way a finished idea… but it is a starting point that by my estimation is worth pursuing.

Simple right?

Believe it or not, within a month and a half I had had filled up more than two notebooks with words and sketches. Most fell into category 1, while the others were fairly balanced between categories 2 and 3.

Too many ideas!


In a future post I’ll talk about what I did with my category 3 ideas.



Where do ideas come from? Ideas come from all around us.

How do you find ideas? You find them by opening yourself up fully to the world around you. You look, listen, and otherwise invite ideas in freely and without judgment.

How do I record ideas? You can record ideas with a physical notebook you like, on a tablet, or with a voice recording device at the moment of inspiration.

How I do know if an idea is good or not? Don’t worry about this at the beginning. “Good” and “bad” ideas always come together, like an extended family on holidays. All you need to do at first is record the ideas you find interesting.

(Britain’s number one pest by Paul Townsend is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)