We all like to think our best ideas come to us in our sleep — ideas so inspiring that we’re jolted awake to jot them down. Yet, most ideas aren’t born from our dreams; they originate by identifying normal, everyday pain points and working to create solutions.
Nick Woodman’s big idea came to him on the water as a solution to his own problem. He wanted to take great pictures from his unique point of view while surfing. So, how do you ride a big wave and hang on to a camera? Woodman took the MacGyver approach by using rubber bands to strap a camera to his arm, and GoPro was born. The company now makes billions by creating high-quality strap-on cameras for extreme situations.
“GoPro sales have more than doubled every year since the first camera’s debut in 2004. In 2012 the company sold 2.3 million cameras and grossed $521 million, according to Woodman.” (Source: Forbes) Today, the 37-year-old is running a billion-dollar technology company.
But not everyone can take a five month surfing trip to find inspiration. You have to find other ways to break out of the daily grind to uncover your next big idea. Here are four tips you can use to unearth inspiration in your day:
Strip it down, and rework it.
Ask yourself why you think about things the way you do and why you do things the way you do. Don’t spend your entire day pondering these questions; just stop for a few minutes and analyze your routines to get a fresh perspective. If you find a consistent problem or inefficiency and think you can fix it, run with it. Then, connect the dots — literally. Grab a scratchpad, and visualize the steps you took to come to the conclusion about whatever idea you’re mulling over. Once you’re writing on paper, you might find yourself jotting down the perfect solution to a problem.
Break it up.
If you work straight through the day, your brain will tire out, and you’ll lose your ability to think creatively and productively. Keep your ideas flowing freely by taking periodic breaks to stay refreshed. Do something other than getting up to refill your coffee. If you can leave the building freely, take a quick walk around the block (without your phone). Whatever clears your mind of your to-do list and refreshes your senses will help.
Rev up the think tank.
If you need inspiration to solve a problem, dedicate some time to brainstorming either alone or with a team. You can think up something great by surrounding yourself with smart people. Head to a new or tried-and-true breakfast spot nearby to have a brainstorming session in the morning when everyone’s fresh. If it’s nice outside, try a park instead of the same old boardroom. A creative environment will fuel your think tank.
Mix it up.
Working in the same space day after day is mentally draining. On the other hand, mixing it up is mentally stimulating, which often leads to inspiration. Changes can be as small as switching up your music playlist or finding a new room to work in. Also, experiment with different work hours, if possible. Maybe your best hour of focus comes at 6 a.m. when things are quieter. You won’t know unless you try.
My company, HourlyNerd, was born from a group project in business school. Completing the project was my original motivation for creating it, but something changed when we were brainstorming what kind of company we wanted to create.
We thought about issues we’d personally seen people deal with and decided we were tired of feeling like smart people could only work for large enterprises while small businesses could only get bad consulting deals. So, we created our company to fill that gap and offer an alternative option.
Inspiration lies in unexpected places. When you’re out of your element or comfort zone, you think and wonder things you wouldn’t otherwise. If you’re in an inspiration rut, make small efforts to shake it up by breaking out of your routine.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Rob Biederman is the co-founder and CEO of HourlyNerd, a service that connects businesses to top freelance talent to solve critical business problems at affordable prices. Connect with @RobertBiederman on Twitter.