Write Down 10 Ideas

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Updated July 28, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

Virgil Abloh told i-D Magazine in 2015 that he came up with 30 ideas a day. Just for fun, here’s an example of what one of them looked like:

Source: Off-White Imaginary TV on Instagram.

If you’re like me, 30 ideas will take you two hours—so I decided to start with a more modest 10.

You can write down or draw out any idea you like. If your interest is in architecture or interior design and you want to design a house, drawing it out counts as an idea. Even if you consider yourself a writer, and you have an idea for an app, write it down. That counts. If your friend has told you that the two of you should throw a party, write it down. You can use an existing reference and circle design elements you would have decided to change. You can write down a one-sentence response to something you read. What was the most interesting thing you read yesterday? What can’t you not stop thinking about? What was the coolest thing you saw yesterday? What was the most interesting thing you heard about? What is a different version of something you just made? Can you remix one of the things you saw, heard, or learned yesterday?

Write it down!

An idea can appear in point form, it can be a drawing, it can be one line, your eyes may be open or they may be closed. And you can apply whatever constraint you like to these ideas.

You may be surprised at how many ideas are forming or present in your mind all the time. Here’s an example of what one day’s ideas looked like for me, exactly as I wrote them (Canadian spellings included):

  1. Sponsoring or buying a product as a way of buying into someone’s future. This reminds me of a podcast from WorkOS who had said the same thing.

  2. Enterprise animals—animals that make jokes about IT sysadmin, etc…

  3. My writing as a combination of Shea Serrano (because he’s so versatile he can write about anything in culture!) and … ??? See Byrne Hobart’s description of his own intersection in Marker non huckster piece

  4. I add value as an idea generator (because I’ve been exposed to so many through reading)—and how I’m giving a lot away because there’s no way I can actually do all of these ideas. And that’s what Virgil [Abloh] did too, I think. You need to have the ideas to provide direction—or you’re executing them. That’s what high level means… see the book on hierarchy

  5. DM interviews—just interview Twitter-famous people on DM/iMessage/Signal or over email for my blog, and let them know I also republish at Medium with 12k+ followers and sometimes at Fast Company as well. This should take no more than 30 mins on my end, and I can set up templated questions just like I do with Crossing the Enterprise Chasm. They can respond in text

  6. Marketing as training your brain to see opportunity and optimism, which is what sets expectations too

  7. Tourist, purist, and traveller. The value of the traveller is they bring a global perspective, a “holistic” one—they are a purist in their own way, the way of globalization. Tyler Brule is one. Virgil was one too!

  8. “Best practices”—doing a lot of stuff and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Based on hypotheses, thinking, and guiding principles of course because nobody can do everything. “Allow strategy to emerge.”

  9. Singapore real estate isn’t an asset, art ownership as home ownership, and a world where art is handled as an asset like real estate

  10. Print the comics out in newsprint or some other unique type of paper and then take the photo. There is something curious about the screen–paper–screen transition. One of many ideas that emerged from French Dispatch.

It’s messy, practically in scribbles, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Seriously, you can write these ideas down wherever you like—in a napkin, on your hand, in your notebook, in a spreadsheet. I like to write mine down in my phone, or whatever pen and paper I can find, and keep track of them in Airtable, so I can search them up later. I sort them by reverse chronological order, and whenever I think of an old idea, I find it, add to it, and move it back up to the top.

You don’t need to work on these ideas right away. It’s tempting to get swept away by the chaos of inspiration, and haphazardly throw new routines and processes into the mix, but it’s important, even with new ideas, to know why you’re trying something new. Coming up with new ideas won’t matter if you’re not able to bring any of them into reality. You may find you need to write the ideas down and save them for later in order for you to truly focus on verifying one and bringing it to life.

Source Inspiration

One of the most difficult parts of creative work is sitting down and deciding what to actually do. One solution to that is to draw from a predefined source, each day. For example, over a decade after he first worked as a lecturer at Yale, graphic designer and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut assigned a brand new project to his students: pick an activity and commit to doing it for 100 days in a row. This project emerged from a practice that Bierut had started five years prior to the assignment, starting January 1, 2002.

Every day, Bierut would make one interpretive drawing of a photo he found in the New York Times. These drawings could take just a few minutes, perhaps even a matter of seconds. They could also be more elaborate, if he had the time. But no matter what, he never ran out of ideas—because every day the New York Times came out, he would get more. You’re free to do what Bierut did, which is to pick a source that provides a constant stream of new ideas.

You could also choose to train your attention, by taking photos of an object that you like anytime you see it in your life. Virgil Abloh observed an acquaintance taking a photo every time he saw a specific luxury handbag, which essentially trained his mind to see it during his day-to-day life. Abloh said, “If you want to find new space, if you want to get to another crescendo of design, and having your brain figure out how to aesthetically put together something, you have to do it often.” You could also do this with visual patterns, as Abloh did with diagonal stripes.

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