How do you know when you’ve come up with a good idea? Hazel Davis spoke to ideas expert John Ingledew to find out...
“Good ideas always cause a reaction when they are encountered,” says John Ingledew, author of How To Have Great Ideas. “Great ideas always cause a big, big reaction.”
With that in mind, a joke is a perfect analogy for an idea, says Ingledew, who has taught and written about creative thinking for the last 20 years. “When you hear a joke you know at once whether it works – the reaction will be either spontaneously laugher or silence. A reaction means it's a successful idea. If it's really funny what do you do? You tell it to someone else – you spread the idea.”
Great ideas also get spread like this, Ingledew says. “Your friends will say, ‘Have you seen this great new product or great new advert, store, movie, car, building, outfit...”
Sometimes it can be tempting to think our ideas are too “out there” and to quietly put them back in their box, never to be spoken of again. But Ingledew thinks this is a mistake. “The fear of being laughed at for suggesting something new causes many of these great ideas to go unsaid,” he says. “To take this further, being laughed at should – at times – be the aim. It means you've got something. It’s caused a reaction.”
There’s also a danger of getting too hung up on what is currently possible. “Forget about technology and what it can or can't do at the moment,” Ingledew advises. “It will always catch up and help create great ideas.”
Instead, we should embrace our inner child and play around with ideas if we want to be really creative, Ingledew says. “We were all incredibly creative as school kids in the playground, inventing games with the things that happened to be at hand,” he says. “A stick could be so many things then: a lightsaber, goal post, a knight's sword, a cricket bat, anything.
“As adults we lose this way of thinking. Be playful to discover new ideas, be playful with objects, materials and language and ideas will always present themselves.”
Ingledew says that Britain has been a leader in art, design and media education thanks to its different approach to teaching creativity. As a teacher and former student at Central St Martins, he has always believed that playfulness, challenge and experimentation are key to discovering new ideas and this is something we have done particularly well in the UK.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t let anything stop us from coming up with great ideas – not even potential barriers like budget or investment. Sometimes the best ideas can come up when we really let our minds run wild.
Ingledew says that one of these wild ideas developed in a class he was teaching recently. They were discussing the benefits of watching live sport – “the huge excitement and emotion and all the singing, clapping, chanting and cathartic release when there is a save, catch, score, home-run or victory”. They concluded that if everyone could attend live sporting events society would be much happier.
But how can you make that happen? This is where Ingledew’s class came up with a crazy idea: “A lot of top sporting events, such as Premier League Football, are basically adverts promoting massive global businesses that get beamed around the planet, everyone person in the crowd is really just an extra in an advert,” he explains. “If you were an extra in a Pepsi ad, you’d expect to get paid. So we had the idea that in future fans should be paid to fill stadiums.”
While it could be a hard sell to sporting teams that make money from ticket sales, it proves that ideas can come from anywhere, if you just let them.