Your Secret Weapon to Generating Ideas

How effective are you at getting the most out of a conference or presentation? This may seem blindingly obvious, but it starts with taking notes. Not all note taking is the same. There are proven and tested note taking methods that can dramatically help you retain more information and generate more ideas from your notes. And that’s the real reason you are there, to expand your mind, come up with new ideas and concepts that will benefit you and your organization.

The secret is – writing

Ditch your computer. Start with paper, not your computer. Don’t take notes with a laptop. Studies have shown that people who use longhand remembered more and had a deeper understanding of the material.

Keep writing. Humans forget things easily. As more time passes, the more we forget (shocker). In a study by Professor Walter Pauk with Cornell, we forget:

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The study on university students found that note-taking combats forgetfulness by providing a reference point for later. Only 10% of a presentation or lecture may last in memory, but those who took and reviewed their notes were able to recall about 80%.

Doodle. You are human and your mind will wander. Whether the speaker is boring or dynamic, you may find yourself doodling in the margins. That’s awesome – keep it up! Research published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that people who doodle recall information (up to 29% more) than their non-doodling counterparts. Doodling is also a great way to spark new and innovative ideas and make them more tangible. There is a reason why we speak of those million-dollar ideas that were initially sketched out on the back of a napkin.

Creating Ideas

Taking notes is great, and for some people, simply listening to someone and taking notes sparks ideas. It doesn’t matter whether you start flowing with ideas or don’t have many from listening to a speaker. Ideas can be sparked in the moment or may come later. And it’s these ideas that are important to you and your organization. Here are a few tips to generate more ideas from your notes:

  • New time. Put down your notes and re-read them the next day. A fresh perspective and sleeping on it is very helpful. A study in Memory and Cognition found that people perform problem-solving tasks more effectively after sleep.
  • New perspective. Start by thinking of a challenge - one challenge or problem you are trying to solve at a time. Review your notes and with that challenge in mind, you may come up with a new idea by looking through this new lens.
  • New location. Take a hike. Grab your notes and go to a coffee shop, walk a trail, and get a different perspective. Reading your notes in a different environment will help generate different thinking and new ideas.
  • New atmosphere. Listen to music while reviewing your ideas. A co-study by the Behavioral Science Institute of The Netherlands and The University of Technology in Sydney, found that listening to uplifting, happy music (your definition of what that is) increased people’s ability to come up with more ideas.

You Have an Idea! Now What?

Don’t lose it. Immediately write it down. The most important thing is to capture the essence of the idea – you can always go back and build upon it. But if it’s forgotten, then it’s lost forever. When you have that spark of an idea, capture these three key elements:

1.     Name it. A creative name or a functional name – this is your baby, whatever you like!

2.     Describe the idea. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just a sentence or two that defines your idea. You will elaborate upon it later.

3.     Make it real. Add a few details that describe how it works. Write just enough to capture the essence of your thinking.

Tell Your Story

Now it’s time to share your idea. The three brief items from above will probably not be enough to effectively communicate your concept. Things to do:

Expand & Add.  Expand on the idea to more fully explain the idea and how it works. Add new information that you believe the people in your organization will want or need to know. These could include items like cost, how long it may take to develop, or the type of resources needed such as people and tools.

Share. How you share your idea is based upon the culture of your organization. Some are formal and it requires a well-developed presentation. In others, it may simply be something that is discussed over lunch with key stakeholders. Regardless of your organizations style, here are a few tips that may help you:

  • Know your Audience. Think about what’s important to the audience. How does the concept align with the organization’s goals and mission? Position the concept in a way that demonstrates how it helps achieve the organization’s objectives.
  • Stay Flexible. Be willing to modify the idea. Embrace the feedback and think about how the concept can evolve to help ensure it either gets prototyped or tested. It’s a big step moving from concept to reality.
  • Grease the Skids. Before launching into a big presentation, float the concept to a few people and get their thoughts. This feedback can be used to help modify and hopefully improve the concept or how to better communicate it. Even go as far as seeking out the one person that may be the biggest skeptic.
  • Use Visuals. Consider adding visuals or other aids to bring the concept to life. This could be a chart, graphs, or a drawing. Visuals can at times convey a lot more information quickly than just words. And it’s also what your audience may prefer. Some people love visuals while others need hard facts and insights that support the concept.

It doesn’t matter whether you are going to a multi-day conference or just attending a one hour presentation. You are still using your valuable time, so you might as well get the most out of it for you and your organization.

Take Notes. Create ideas. Share. Be brilliant.