How I come up with 20 new ideas a day.

Photo: Thomas Martinsen

In the past I have written about my daily idea development routine that I have been practicing for the past 25 years.

It all started when I decided I was dedicating myself to this new found career I stumbled into, that would be advertising, and if I wanted to succeed at it I had damn well better teach myself how to come up with ideas on demand.

So, back in the beginning I made a pact with myself that I would come up with three ideas a day, every day of the year, yes that includes weekends.

The reason for this obsessive mission wasn’t due to some psychological compulsive disorder; the simple fact is if you want to be good at something you have to practice.

There’s not one athlete out there who rolled out of bed on January 1st this year, made a new year’s resolution, went for a jog every other week and ended up winning gold at the Olympics. Never going to happen.

Those that know me or have met me can confirm that I never go anywhere without a notebook and pen in hand or in pocket. No matter where I am going and no mater what the occasion they come along for the ride.

Yes I do know that my smartphone can take notes, but it is different. The brain creates differently when you use a pen or pencil and paper. It’s a proven fact.

Last year I was introduce to a new tool that I have added to my creative arsenal, the Bamboo Spark by Wacom, if you are an obsessive note writer and notebook lover like myself I suggest you check it out. (Full disclosure I do work on projects for Wacom but they are not paying me to say this, I simply love the product).

Not long ago I decided I was lazy. This had nothing to do with my aversion to embrace a daily hardcore workout routine (although there is a change coming there), it had more to do with the fact for over two decades I have stuck to the same regiment of three ideas a day. I had stopped challenging myself, and my brain.

Three had become easy, it was not really hard for me any more to knock out a few ideas and be done. That box ticked for the day, pat myself on the back, and move on.

Time to up the ante.

So I decided to make my life harder and imposed a 20-idea limit per day on myself. I must have been crazy.

But seeing as how once I have made my mind up I do something I had to commit. And I have stuck to it ever since.

What are these ideas about? Anything and everything, I don’t limit myself to an industry or a genre. I keep it wide open. Some of the things I dream up ideas for include

· T-Shirt designs

· Book ideas

· Poster ideas

· Furniture designs

· Names for a product or brand

· Song titles

· Band names that should exist

· Recipe ideas I have never heard of

· Photography ideas

· Short film ideas

· Ring design ideas

· App ideas

· Cabin designs

· Logo ideas

· Invention ideas

· Shop design ideas

· Wine label names

· Packaging ideas

· Environment saving ideas

· Art ideas

· Video ideas

· Bag designs

· Home wares ideas

· Things to make by hand

· Magazine concepts

· Domain names — I own a bank of them and have sold some for a nice profit

· Advertising ideas

· Coffee shop name ideas

· Bar name ideas

· And anything else that pops into my head.

There’s neither rhyme nor reason for the type of ideas I develop, they are random to keep the thinking fresh and to make it interesting.

It’s not easy, but it can be done. You just have to train your brain to become an idea-generating machine on a daily basis.

One thing to remember is never edit yourself, there is no client involved, this is all for you. So there’s no need to be concerned if you think an idea might be bad, it doesn’t matter.

There are times I will do 20 in one hit and there are other times where I spread it throughout the day. There is no right or wrong approach. That being said, doing it in one session is the hardest and I do like to push myself to do that as often as possible, depending on other commitments.

To get started I open up to a fresh two page spread in my notebook and write numbers 1 through 20 on the left-hand side and then away I go. If I need to scribble down a small visual for one of them I do that on the right-hand side. Simple.

There is another method I use and it was introduced to me when I started in advertising. It’s called the ‘box method’. As legend has it this technique was either developed by or mastered by famed UK adman David Abbott.

The concept is straightforward; I draw up 20 boxes on a page and go about filling them in with ideas. It’s just a different way of seeing things. When I was introduced to this method we did 25 boxes per page and were often tasked to come up with 150 boxes of ideas.

When you physically write or draw an idea onto paper it is effectively getting it out of your head and leaving space for more ideas to come forward. It’s kind of like a mini purge of thinking, get it out of your head no matter if it’s good or bad and keep going.

Like any form of exercise the more you do it the better and faster you will become.

But please remember, don’t try and do this while sitting at your desk, you need to get away from that routine and environment and give yourself some visual stimuli.

That’s why doing it while in transit to and from work can be one approach, or simply sitting in a coffee shop, a park, a bar, or even take a seat in a large art gallery or museum. Anywhere but where you do your day-to-day work.

Over the years I have developed many other idea generating techniques, I mix them up at different times to keep things fresh.

But I fully recommend to anybody who truly wants to get more creative and have more ideas to always have a notebook and pen with them.

always time for ideas.

There’s always time in the day to do some thinking and give your brain a workout. There is always time for ideas.

Over to you, get thinking.

That’s it for today; see you tomorrow.


P.S. If you are in New York and would like to attend a small talk I am moderating called ‘Where do ideas come from?’ on September 13 you can see the details here.

Rodd Chant is a Creative Director / Writer / Strategist and a bit more. He also teaches creativity to groups and individuals and makes a mean Thai red curry, or so he says. He also has a penchant for talking in the third person. You can read more of his LinkedIn musings here. You can also find him on Twitter and on Instagram. Or drop him an email —

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