How to create great ideas

One of my favourite moments when I was working in a large organisation was when someone said,

‘What a great idea.’

It did not happen that often but when it did what a moment it was.

‘What a great idea’ is a wonderful emotional expression.

It is empowering, energising and gives permission for the individual or team to move forward with their idea.

It’s not ‘this is a good idea’ or ‘maybe this solution might work’ it’s a definite, unfiltered response.

I also like this expression because it recognises that the new idea or solution potentially straddles two often competing forces – the need for efficiency and the need for creativity.

The need for Efficiency

I call this being in box mode.

It’s a vital part of a great idea.

A seemingly left-field idea that cannot be delivered on budget, on time and within an acceptable profit margin will not get much leadership support.

Also an idea that is not consistent with the values and purpose of an organisation probably should not be considered.

The need for Creativity

I call this being in ball mode.

Like a ball this mode is all about generating new ideas that are playful, fun and colourful.

And like a balloon these ideas can soar above what others are doing.

They often are a leap ahead of what exists at the moment.

Connecting the two

So a great idea has to address the need for efficiency and the need for creativity.

An efficient idea that does not capture the imagination of customers or employees for example is destined to be ignored.

A creative idea that cannot be implemented remains a latent opportunity.

This begs the question.

What is a great idea?

As has been alluded to a great idea is one that can connects the efficient with the creative.

To recognise a great idea think ‘AND’ not ‘OR’.

  • Imaginative and Insightful (i.e. based on a customer or user insight)
  • Different and Doable
  • Creates an Opportunity and Solves a Problem

For example, consider the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb.

It takes an existing asset (i.e. the Harbour Bridge) and transforms it to a tourist attraction that can be experienced rather than just observed.

Completely different yet doable (not without some initial resistance however).

How to create great ideas?

Notice the use of the plural – ideas.

Coming up with a single once-off great idea is beneficial but imagine being able to develop great ideas in a more deliberate, proactive and systematic way.

Here is where my new concept Switch Thinking can help.

Switch Thinking consists of 6 Switches (i.e. perspective, problem, outcome, focus, questions and rules) that can help you think in a more imaginative (i.e. ball) way.

These switches will help you develop a stream of new ideas quickly.

Then you can switch back to box mode and see if your ideas are feasible, make financial sense etc.

Or you can start with the efficient mode and try and stretch your existing box.

Then switch to ball mode and generate some hopefully breakthrough ideas then return to the box mode.

As you can see its a dynamic process.

It’s the switching and connecting of the box and ball mode of thinking that often leads to great ideas.

The goal is ‘Out of the box’ ideas that work.

It’s not different ideas for the sake of it.

It’s developing great ideas that can benefit your team, organisation and society.

Switch Thinking can help you and your team to create great ideas in a semi-structured, energising way.




Check out the 6 Switches Canvas. It’s simple, practical and free.