How to Get Your Ideation Train Moving

9 ways to jump-start your creativity (and 3 things that never work)

Does your ideation train ever lose momentum? In January, mine did.

Sure, I’d been doing things and dwelling on a thought or two, but I hadn’t had that lightning bolt sensation of consistent ideation. Buzzing with ideas, plans, motifs, and bound for the beautiful unknown of the intangible realm.

In January, I wasted a month following some dead-end, generic business advice. My fault, as it was my decision, but with each week that passed, my ideation train slowed down a notch.

But last week I found the zone again. The prep work started at the beginning of the month. I remembered my purpose and started balancing the lousy advice with what I loved to do: to write. Eventually, the writing took over and last week, bang, that train started moving again.

It started with a coffee with a freelancing friend. We shared agonies, triumphs, and resolutions, and then we both hit the ideas space. I’ll be holding him to account on a video series he’s starting, and he’ll do the same with my blog series.

Then a workshop on UX Innovation, where the ideas were flowing, and eventually a two-hour brainstorming session with my new client. Yeah, baby, I am moving on down that road again.

Every item sitting on your desk right now started as someone’s idea. I’ll skip a theological discussion on fruit or vegetables, but every human-made product had its origins in someone else’s head. Every story you read or textbook you digest had its genesis in the same place.

What About Your Ideation Process? Do Ideas Come Quickly, Come Easily?

Of course, we strive for an Archimedes moment.

On other days a short story, new product, or blog idea would suffice.

We have advice now on optimal environment and circumstances for productivity, for peak health and energy, but what about the best conditions to turn on that ideation tap and keep it running?

Here are my post-slow-down ideas for getting that train moving again. Some will seem obvious, but if you’re stuck, maybe using one or two of them will get you on the tracks again.

Get Your Ideation Train Moving

1. The right crowd

I don’t like the word tribe anymore. You know, politics. But there is power in the process of talking things through with the right people. Small parts become greater, etc.

Some criteria of the right crowd are they’re positive, they’ve got loads of exciting ideas, they engage with what you’re saying (and I don’t mean a retweet on Twitter), they’re always doing things with their life, and they listen.

And of course, it follows that you should aim to be this person, too, but only in the right crowd; otherwise, you’re wasting your energy.

2. Radio in a foreign language

Bless the Internet. My favourite is FIP. It plays great music all day, and I can pretend I’m in France. Nothing like setting your imagination to holiday mode to get those ideas flowing.

3. Reading

You know all this. I used to think of reading my novels as a treat. Like a piece of chocolate. Something I could only do once all of my chores were finished. Wrong!

There’s something about entering into someone else’s thought space that gets our ideation engine moving again.

4. A long walk

A long walk is excellent for either generating ideas or problem-solving. Before I got my puppy, I used to avoid leaving the house unnecessarily. What about you? Are you operating under the misconception that time in front of your laptop is valuable time?

5. The right kind of meeting

Met an inspired person? Chase up a coffee meeting with them. The worst they can do is ignore you.

Or make time to catch up with an inspired friend that you know already. My writing buddy Jade and I are going to have a virtual co-working meeting in March. I know those ideas will be flying.

6. A long, boring meeting

Back in the old corporate days, I gathered some of my best ideas in long, boring meetings. The best thing is that you look like a studious attendee with your notebook and pen flowing. Your manager two rows down is doing the same thing on his phone, but he seems inattentive.

Instead of sulking with resentment (which I used to do) put the time and space to good use.

7. A lecture

If you live in an urban centre, there will be hundreds of free or low-cost lectures and events you can attend. Like when you are reading a novel, you are entering the idea space of someone else, and this kicks you back into the zone.

If you don’t, then watch Ted Talks, YouTube, or MasterClass. The realms are endless.

8. A gig

Big studio gigs aren’t my bag of beans, but smaller, more intimate venues remove me to another world. The smaller ones won’t cost much money, either.

9. The right kind of networking group

You won’t know this until you try them, but the right kind of networking group will generate at least one new idea, often many more. Some have paid membership programmes; others are entirely free. There’s only one way to figure out which is best.

Things That Slow Your Ideation Train Down

These are the things I do that never seem to generate any ideas. Yet I still do them, and I marvel about how wonderful a break is, but it never lasts — flawed human.

  • Sitting in front of my laptop
  • Browsing Twitter
  • Watching telly

Once you get your train moving again, it’s essential to capture your ideas. You’ll have some amazing ones, some dreadful ones, and a range in between. After things go into my notebook, I transfer them to Excel, where not only are they safe but where I also start to see them accumulating and have the satisfaction of having a full ideas cupboard.

Think, write, act, and iterate.

Good luck! If you are a fellow small business, this blog on Business Storytelling may interest you.

I’m on a mission to unpick the myth of creative genius and have put together a short, digestible guide on creativity and how small businesses can develop this mindset.   Find out more here.


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