The Elusive Idea

I had a brilliant idea for a blog post. For this blog post actually. It was an idea that had a nice edge to it, an engaging hook in it and a wonderful overall feel.

  • This post could’ve turned into a novel.
  • It’s appeal would’ve been worldwide.
  • It’s potential would translate well onto the silver screen.

Only trouble is… I can’t remember the elusive idea.

The Idea Environment

Ideation, the process of forming ideas, happens when we create an environment for idea generation.

So what is an environment for ideation to naturally happen? Think about your last energizing idea. It probably happened when you were doing something like…

-Taking a shower.

-Washing the dishes.

-Driving your car.

-Doing gardening work.

-Taking a walk or working out.

Why do ideas seem to come to us during those times? It’s simple: because we aren’t looking for them.

Ideas come from connections our subconscious and conscious make in tandem. To facilitate these connections, we mingle mundane and repetitive tasks such as those listed above to create optimal environments for the elusive idea to manifest.

In other words… do something repetitive and see what happens.

  • Volunteer to do the dishes.
  • Take a longer shower.
  • Pull those weeds in the garden.

You just might experience your next great idea for your business, your writing, your invention or your investments.

There’s only one more step: getting that idea out of your mind before it disappears: catch it.

Catch me whenever I fall
Hossein Ghodsi via Compfight

Capturing the Elusive Idea

[box options]Have you ever said “I’ll remember that idea!” Then what happened? Not five minutes later it’s completely gone. Forever.[/box]

I don’t know where that ‘yeah, you’ll remember it’ voice comes from, but we can’t listen to it–ever! It’s a liar, and though it might have good intentions, it always ends up disappointing us.

Ideators use a variety of tools to capture the elusive idea before it’s absorbed into the Bermuda triangle of idea death.

Some of my favorites…

  • iPhone/Smartphone
    • Use the voice recorder to quickly document memory-jogging snippets of your ideas.
    • Evernote is a fantastic app that allows you to organize and share your ideas (my wife and I share an account and have several idea folders we both contribute to).
    • Take a quick picture or record a video of something that’ll remind you of your idea.
  • Paper
    • Moleskine pocket notebooks (affiliate link) are wonderful. I carried one of these around with me wherever I went when I spent three months in Africa. Indispensable when you don’t want to (or can’t) have electronics nearby.
    • Paper plates. David Klein, inventor of Jelly Belly candies says that scraps of paper are too easily lost or left in pockets, emerging from washing machines as faded wads. Paper plates are harder to lose and difficult to stuff in pockets. “Plus,” he notes, “you can fling em.” Sounds fun to me.
  • People
    • Tell your spouse your idea.
    • Tell a friend your idea.
    • Don’t be afraid or jealous that they’ll steal it (see my Ten Commandments for Creatives, paying attention to commandments 3 and 6).

Question: How do you generate and capture your ideas? Share a comment below to give us some other ideas.



Author: Andrew Zahn

I'm a son, husband, dad, business owner, actor and good sleeper/eater. On this blog, I pave a highway for creative growth by providing food, water, and shelter for those wishing to live, work, and play with creative zest.

  • Andy Black

    Hmmm. Paper plates, huh? I’ll have to start keeping a supply with me at times. The flinging part does sound fun though… You are so right about that whole “I’ll remember that” trap. I have lost a number of… now what was I going to say? I’ll let you know when it comes to me.

    • Dollar store paper plates, here comes Andy! 😉

  • Daryl

    I think creative ideas and dreams come from a similar place. They are both elusive, and some great ideas come in dreams, or that space between waking and sleeping. I heard a great interview with Bobby McFerrin (On Being, with Krista Tippett) in which he talks about “catching songs”. Pretty apropos. Native American “dreamcatchers” come to mind as well.

    • That place between wakefulness and dreams is so amazing. That’s why I love naps. They’re magical and indulgent… like cake without the calories.

      I’ll have to check out that interview too Daryl. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • I discover my best ideas when cleaning [organization and structure help me to create later on without the “Oh shoot I still have to do dishes later” distraction], washing the dishes [we have a window right in front of the sink where I can stare out at the hedges and skyline and let the ideas come to me], showering [being isolated from the world and in my most natural state possible helps to free my mind of distractions and convention] and driving [truly being on the journey of life and discovering its stories along the way]. Each of these examples reaffirm the fact that my best ideas are generated in isolation. Regardless, I always try to write it down somewhere before forgetting it. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.

    • It’s interesting that the common denominator is isolation. I’d say that’s true for me as well. It’s also interesting that many idea-generating conditions include water… maybe there’s something to that?

      • Very interesting correlation indeed. There’s something very cleansing, nurturing and organic about water. I always feel the closest to God when I look out over the vast ocean line. Makes me feel very alone, yet very connected to myself and to my Maker.

  • I use Evernote and post it notes to capture my ideas, those times when I don’t listen to the “You’ll remember it later” lie. Sometimes I’ll even email the idea to myself if I’m at work and don’t have access to my Evernote. Pretty much anything that gets it down so I don’t have to remember it!

    • E-mailing yourself… another good one Jason!

  • My ideas appear at the most inopportune times, or at least the most random. Honestly, my iPhone has been a life saver in these instances. Quickly I can write my scattered thoughts on the notepad, and hours later I don’t induce a headache trying to remember my possibly brilliant idea that occurred earlier. (Also, with a quick swipe I can delete proof I ever thought a terrible idea was worth persuing. And that is priceless.)

    • Thank the Lord for the iPhone… seriously!