Creative ideas exist where we typically don’t look for them

The most creative ideas are nearly always stumbled on by accident.

This is the nature of novel ideas: they cannot be found where we would expect to find them, where we typically look for them. By definition, creative ideas exist outside of where we think they will be.

This point helps explain why novices tend to spark the most creative ideas. The naive perspective of the novice doesn’t limit them to look in the places they know where ideas should exist, which is exactly what experts tend to do.

What does this mean for you and me? It means that one enemy of creative ideas – novel and useful ones – is knowledge through experience. You can have good ideas and you can have useful ideas by relying on knowledge, but creative ideas exist outside of what you know you know. You must explore the world outside of your knowledge if you want to stumble on new ideas. Simple as that.

In his book Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite, Paul Arden explains this in the contexts of the game of golf:

“Old golfers don’t win (it’s not an absolute, it’s a general rule). Why?

The older golfer can hit the ball as far as the young one. He chips and putts equally well. And will probably have a better knowledge of the course. So why does he take the extra stroke that denies him victory?


He knows the downside, what happens if it goes wrong, which makes him more cautious. The young player is either ignorant or reckless to caution. That is his edge.

It is the same with all of us. Knowledge makes us play safe. The secret is to stay childish.”

To rely on knowledge, experience, or expectations in the pursuit of creative ideas is the easiest way to fall flat. We shouldn’t expect ourselves to discover creative ideas if we begin our search with the intent of finding them in all our familiar places.

Instead, we should actively seek out ideas in places we wouldn’t typically begin to look. One of the best ways to do that is to make mistakes, another is to have a conversation. The point is to seek out things you inherently don’t know you don’t know. You can’t do that if you’re looking in all the familiar places.