One trick for coming up with creative ideas

A classic trick creative thinkers will use—one that isn’t really a trick at all—is to look at what people are doing elsewhere and mimic it.

If a student sees a community forming around local artists, what’s to stop her from creating a Facebook group for the artists in her school?. A teacher who sees a friend self publish a novel might decide to start exploring what would happen if he self published his classroom work lessons online, for free. A software developer who watches someone on TV hack together a windmill using nothing but scrap parts might write a program to automatically generate schematics for how to build low-cost windmills.

Ideas are all around us. From the people we encounter every day to the things we interact with. All we have to do in order to generate interesting ideas for ourselves is look around us and ask how things might converge.

If you look around you now and see anything that captures your interest, ask what would happen if you tried to combine that thing with something else.

What if a chemistry teacher decided to print his own notebooks, with a chemical cheat sheet printed in the back? Or if a marketing student found a way to aggregate anonymous consumer data in a way that helped real people and marketed alike? Or what about a taxi driver who wants to consult fashion gurus by starting a blog about all of the fashion he sees running his cab every day?

When you look around to see what people are doing—from starting clubs or companies, to providing resources or hacking together inventions—then ask yourself how you might do what they do in your own way, using your own expertise, the word of ideas swells.

Ideas are there if we’re willing to look for them. What’s dramatically more difficult than coming up with ideas is following through with them. But in the age of smartphones, Google, and Alibaba, following up on an idea is rapidly coming a game anyone can play, if they take the time to look up and play.