January often encourages us to reevaluate our goals; indeed, our annual review and subsequent goal-setting process that many of us are required to undertake at our places of business forces this time of reflection upon us. Like many of the rest of you, I just participated in setting my professional goals for 2016. As well as job related goals, I was asked to determine my creative goals, both in terms of presentations I hoped to develop and present at conferences as well as my writing goals. This process, along with the subsequent discussions with co-workers, had me thinking more about the creative process. Several individuals were struggling with coming up with ideas for their possible articles and presentations, and I recognized that I, myself, had been struggling with ideas for topics to post on this blog recently.
So, where do ideas such as these come from? For me, it is not so much idea creation, as idea recognition. Over time, I have developed a sort of lurking attention in the back of my mind that jumps out like a child calling “BOO!” when it recognizes something I encounter during my day as a possible blog post, article or presentation topic. Rhoda Israelov from the Say It For You blog had another interesting idea. She suggests, “when you put two things together that don’t seem to match – that can be a good technique to capture people’s interest.” I liked this idea and plan to add it to my “idea starter’s” list. There are all sorts of other ways that ideas can originate:
- A question from a patron
- An article, blog post, tweet, or even a picture that makes you ask a question or What if? or What next?
- A story of what happened to you when you tried something and it was a great success… or even better, a great failure. What did you learn? Everyone loves a good story!
- Our Library Professional Development group is actually planning a conference topic brainstorming session for librarians. Many heads make for lots of ideas.
- Browse some key journals in your field. What are the hot trends? What do you have to say or what do they spark you to research further?
- Look at those same journals. What isn’t trending anymore? Why? Do you agree? Do you have something to suggest to explore there that might change the way that trend is going?
- Browse some journals totally OUTside your field. Look at top business journals or what internet content marketers are doing. How might those skills or ideas be applied to your field? What do they have to offer to the academic audience?
- ASK for ideas! Poll your audience, talk to people. What do they want to know about?
- Be alert to conversations going on around you. All those “yeah, that would be nice to know” comments could alert you to a question that nobody else is taking the time to investigate.
- Choose a person, holiday, event that intrigues you and share what you learn about it. For librarians, this is a great way to slip in teaching about a resource the library has… hook them with an interesting story, then tell the reader how they can find more!
- Interview someone interesting… and almost anyone can be interesting if you find the right question to ask them. Start with a question like “what inspires you?” or “5 things don’t most people know about you.” You’ll be amazed at what you uncover.
Neil Gaiman had one of the best discourses on the topic of “where do your ideas come from” and I’d like to close this post with a teaser from his own words. I encourage you to go read the whole article. On his website, neilgaiman.com, he talks about the important questions to ask yourself: “What if?” “If only…” and “I wonder…” He muses, “Those questions, and others like them, and the questions they, in their turn, pose (‘Well, if cats used to rule the world, why don’t they any more? And how do they feel about that?’) are one of the places ideas come from. “