Hold your breath: How to come up with better ideas

A still taken from a video of Yoshiro Nakamatsu standing in a swimming pool pointing at the camera. The caption says "An idea comes instantly and disappears instantly"
Dr. NakaMats
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
13 March 2019

It’s easy to talk about thinking smarter and coming up with better ideas. But when it comes down to it, what can you do to make sure you find the best solutions?

1. Be fickle

“The best thing you can do with your ideas is to always be ready to abandon them,” Richard Newton, author of The Little Book of Thinking Big, says. “I’m pretty sure that such fickleness is the secret super power of entrepreneurial winners. In fact I’d go further than mere fickleness. I’d describe it as brutal fickleness. When it comes to your ideas only a savage disregard for their continuance will serve you well.”

He says that instead of building walls around ideas to protect them, you should always be “ready to throw them on the fire if and when you discover they are no longer sound”. This is, he says, the only way to be their fiercest critic.

While it may seem counterintuitive, the future is so fast-changing and uncertain that Newton says the only way to adapt is to be ready to abandon your ideas.

Dr Nakamats stands in a swimming pool
Dr. NakaMats

2. Follow Dr NakaMats’ three steps

Yoshiro Nakamatsu, or Dr NakaMats, is one of the world’s leading inventors with more than 3,500 patents to his name. He shared three steps for coming up with better ideas with Virgin.com:

  • Enter a calm room. “In this room you need to be able to erase all of the bad and old ideas,” Dr NakaMats explains. “Being in the calm room cleans my mind and prepares it for creativity.”

  • Enter the dynamic room. “This room is completely sealed off and it is also soundproof, I will enter the room and listen to music which can help with the creative process,” he says. “The Dynamic Room is dark, with black and white striped walls and special audio-visual equipment.”

  • Go underwater. “One thing I have learnt is that oxygen is the enemy of ideas, so to come up with the best ideas you need to get away from it,” Dr NakaMats says. “By diving underwater and holding your breath you can come up with the best ideas, they will come to you when you are 0.5 seconds away from death.”

3. Let yourself be bored

The art of mind wandering is becoming a thing of the past. Smartphones have replaced boredom and that could have a significant impact on our ability to come up with brilliant ideas.

“There is a close link between creativity, originality and novelty on the one hand, and these spontaneous thoughts that we generate when our minds are idle,” Dr Jonathan Smallwood, a cognitive neuroscientist, said. The real problem, he said, comes when we solve our boredom with our smartphones.

“The smartphone solution probably takes away the boredom but it also denies us this chance to see and learn about where we truly are in terms of our goals.”

So it’s time to put the phone down and start coming up with better ideas.