How to get ideas

“How do you get your ideas?” Prasna Rao** asked me this morning.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because, many people want to know, but do not seem to ask any one.”

“I do various things. ”

“Like what? Why can’t you be a bit specific and more helpful?”

“First,  I have to be clear about what I am looking for. I then start by thinking of a few ideas. I do not settle any of those in a hurry. I let the question incubate in my mind. It sort of cooks for a while.”

“How do you know it is cooking?”

“It is always at the back of my mind and whatever I see, my mind tries to connect that with my problem. When that happens, I know it is cooking.”

“Give me an example.”

“This happened years ago. I was trying to explain the basics of a communication strategy to my colleagues. It was sounding theoretical to all of us. I was looking for a good example to bring the concept alive. ”

“What did you do?”

“I was actively looking for examples from advertising books, television commercials and so on.”

“Most obvious thing to do. And you got an idea.”

“Not really, Prasna; it did not work. So I just took a break and went to meet a friend instead.”

“You asked him this question, did you?”

“No. In fact I forgot about the whole issue. We had dinner and he was going to see a video and asked me to stay. I did that. We saw a film called Broken Arrow – the one with James Stewart in it (not the recent one with John Travolta). It was one of those films depicting the conflict between  Red Indians and White Americans. I loved the film, especially dialogues. I returned home quite late.”

“So when did you crack the idea?”

“Early next morning, when I was having my coffee. It came to me in a flash. There is a sequence in the film where the white man goes to see the Red Indian. He simply wants the Red Indians to let the mail go through (They were killing the white men carrying mail.) The entire sequence from start to finish explained all the steps of developing a good communication strategy, brilliantly. Therefore my idea was ‘What if I make this sequence part of my training capsule, to explain how to develop a communication strategy?’ I recently found this Broken Arrow sequence on You Tube. It is about 10 minutes long, brilliantly written and shot and explains every aspect of developing a good communication strategy: objective, audience, promise, reason why, tone and style of communication and a measurable outcome. It taught me the importance of going beyond words and appreciating the value of what we say, show and do.”

“Did it work?”


“Is that how most people get ideas? Incubating the problem, being open minded and making unusual connections?”

“Many people do that ; but it is certainly not the only way. It might be a good idea to ask how people get their ideas. What else do they do?”

“Good. You ask them.”

So here is the request from both of us. Please share with us as to how you get your ideas. What do you do? Where do you go? Whom do you talk to? What works for you?

If you feel like send a one minute video (shot on your mobile) explaining what you do. Send it to me at Please add a line  about you; name, place and what you do.

I would love to carry your ideas/videos on this site.


**Prasna is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms.  You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach


Picture by e3000 available under a Creative Commons Attribution- licensed for commercial use.








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4 Responses to “How to get ideas”

  1. Sankar Muthukrishnan says:

    Very nicely written.

    I have found that there are two predominant ways I get my ideas
    1) I am reading something entirely unrelated
    2) I think about the issue before falling asleep – generally I get the solutioin in a dream but in an indirect form which I need to translate to the situation in hand.

    • R Sridhar says:

      Thanks for your interesting idea. This reminds me of the Benzene ring story.

      • R Ravikumar says:

        People get ideas in myriad ways. One way to get new ideas is to constantly ask in anything that you do each day saying “what can I do differently”, “how can I differentiate myself in the organisation”. This potentially lead to a greater quest to rethink on matters in many things that you do & usually ideas follow. Of course through the filtering process only some of them work eventually.

        • R Sridhar says:

          Thanks Ravi. ‘What can I do differently’ is a powerful question. I have a friend who refuses to do anything that has been done before (at least most of the time).
          ‘How can I differentiate myself’ is a different thing altogether, but nevertheless important.


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