Exercise your brain and become an ideas machine

Franziska Iseli has a daily ideas exercise: choose a situation and devise 10 ways to do it better.

Treat your brain as an ideas muscle. Exercise it regularly, and the next idea you generate could be the one that changes your life.

Ideas are the lifeblood of all businesses, but for every 50 ideas you come up with, only one may fly. However, it’s crucial you be brave enough to keep taking chances, says Franziska Iseli. Every idea that doesn’t bear fruit brings you one step closer to a winner.

Iseli is the co-founder of Sydney-based company Basic Bananas, which teaches marketing smarts and strategy to small business owners. In 2013, she was named NSW Chamber of Commerce Young Entrepreneur of the Year. 

Basic Bananas, launched in 2009 by Iseli and her partner Christo Hall, flourishes by thinking outside the square. The pair say that everything worthwhile starts with a great idea. 

At their sold-out 2017 Vivid Sydney event, Iseli and Hall delivered a presentation on how to be an ideas machine. The first step? Training what Iseli describes as your “idea muscle”. 

How to exercise your brain

“To get bigger biceps, you need to exercise your arms,” says Iseli, who grew up in Switzerland and worked in Costa Rica, Egypt and South Africa before moving to Australia, where she met Hall. 

“If you want to generate more ideas at a faster pace, you need to exercise your brain.”

The first exercise she suggests comes from James Altucher, an American hedge fund manager and author of bestsellers such as Trade Like Warren Buffett

“It’s an exercise I do every morning,” she says. “Choose any object or situation and come up with 10 ideas for making it better. It may be 10 ways to improve a work presentation, or a piece of furniture in your home, or your life in general. All 10 ideas are probably not going to be incredible, but that’s not the point.”

Professional Development: Generating creative and innovative ideas: learn the attributes of a creative person, how to maximise team creativity and techniques to verify and build on creative ideas.

Iseli explains that by the sixth idea, your brain starts to sweat and has to work harder to complete the task. “It’s an effective way to become much better and much quicker at solving problems and coming up with ideas.”

She then challenges you to think beyond the obvious. “Choose an object and imagine how it can be used for different purposes.

You can do it solo but it also works as a group exercise. 

“I do this exercise with my team regularly. We might take a coffee cup and pass it around and everyone comes up with an alternative use for it. It helps you to think laterally, which is a valuable skill for coming up with ideas.”

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

Not every idea is a winner. The most effective ideas machines know which concepts to pursue and which ones to throw away – but how do you make that call? 

Iseli does it by putting on different “metaphorical glasses”. 

“Start off by wearing the glasses of an optimist and write down all the positive things about your idea,” she says. 

“Then put on your cynic’s glasses and write down all the reasons it won’t work. You could also put on the glasses of an expert and come up with all the facts that surround your idea, such as how many people it will impact. 

“This exercise helps you to see your idea from different perspectives. If you’re a natural optimist, play devil’s advocate. When you’ve come up with an idea that you think is good, bounce it off someone you trust, such as a colleague, and get their feedback. If you don’t share your idea, you risk sitting on it for too long.”

If your idea is rejected but you still believe in its worth, Iseli’s advice is to trust your gut. “We’re all born with intuition. Don’t be afraid to use it. If you really believe your idea can make a difference, pursue it.”

Read next: Can you train the brain to be more productive at work?


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