1. Gather raw material
You need to collect specific and the general information about the issue you are working on. I like to gather my raw material using Mindmanager. I also gather material on the web and tag it using del.icio.us and then link key pages to the mind map. It’s important to be a maven and get interested in the peripheral areas and keep saying to yourself, “this might be useful.”
2. Digest the material
As James Webb says, “This part of the process is harder to describe in concrete terms because it goes on entirely inside your head.” Play with the material you’ve collected. Look at it from different angles and perspectives. Don’t be too literal, use metaphors and most importantly jot down partial ideas as they come to you, regardless of how crazy they seem. Keep going until you get to the hopeless stage and everything seems like a jumble.
3. Put the issue out of your mind completely—incubation
This is the easy bit. Forget about the problem and just like Sherlock Holmes, abruptly drop the case mid-way through and got to a concert. Do anything that keeps you mind off the issue at hand and engages your emotions. Movies, music, reading, lively conversation.
4. An idea will appear
At some point the “ah ha!” moment happens. Don’t let it slide past. Write down the idea immediately.
5. Expose the idea to reality
The idea is likely to need work. So now is the time to build it up, think about the practicalities, and work out how it might really work in practice. Test the idea with colleagues and clients and be ready to adapt.
Now these five steps might seem bleedingly obvious but you will be surprised how many people want to just jump to steps four and five. I recommend buying a copy of this tiny book. It will take you an hour to read, costs $6 and does a terrific job of explaining these five steps in much greatly detail and humour.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: