Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

The age old question: Where do you get your ideas? It may be the most common question I get asked. The problem is, I can’t answer it. Or at least not in a way that would satisfy the person who asked the question.

The real problem lies in the question itself: Where do you get your ideas? It’s almost as if they think I have access to some kind of information, some kind of magazine or web site that is so rich with ideas, so rife with creativity that it makes it easy to develop incredible concepts.

Occasionally, when I get asked this question in a group setting I’ll have a little fun with the person asking the question and respond that whenever your church reaches a certain size a highly-secret organization will contact you and offer you access to a web site full of ideas that will blow your mind, but again, only when your church reaches a certain size.

I think a big misconception about creative ideas is that they’re born almost fully formed. That is, that the genesis and the finished product somewhat closely resemble each other. Sure, we assume there’s going to be some tweaks made a long the way, but for the most part the crux of the idea is born in tact. We think John Lassetter woke up one day with Woody and Buzz dueling in his head, that Steve Jobs had a miraculous vision of the iPhone in his sleep, that George Lucas knew Darth Vader was Luke’s father from the inception.

We want to believe it works that way don’t we? Why? Because it’s sexier, because It’s more fantastic, because it’s more grand and mysterious. But above all else, this misconception persists because it let’s us off the hook.

Let’s suppose for a minute that ideas aren’t born fully formed and that great artists simply take inspiration from everything around them and not from some secret stash that you & I don’t have. And let’s suppose for a minute that their art isn’t the result of a stroke of genius but rather from years of study, dedication and hard work.

What if that were true? What would it mean for me and you? Well, it would rob us of our excuses wouldn’t it? I mean if it all came down to hard work and study then we could no longer hide behind the notion that we just don’t have access to what they have or we just aren’t as gifted as they are, right?

I’m not arguing that talent and gifting don’t play a role here, but in my opinion, when it comes to creativity, talent and gifting have been emphasized to exclusion of hard work for far too long and it furthers the notion that the best ideas pop straight out of the mind of the genius fully formed rather than the product of hard work.

You want to know the secret to creativity? It’s all about idea development. It’s not about the moment an idea comes to you, it’s about the hours upon hours that you’ll spend developing that idea AFTER it’s come to you.

Andrew Stanten who is a member of the Pixar brain trust and the writer and director of many of Pixar’s best films was asked about the writing process and this is what he said “Write. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.”

The point is, almost nothing comes out fully formed. The best ideas are almost always the result of a long, intensive process of development. When the iPhone was being developed there were two versions, one with a click wheel and one with a touch screen. Even the amazing Steve Jobs needed time to arrive at that decision.Now we can all see that touch screen technology has completely changed the mobile phone industry, but what seems like a no-brainer now was the result of a long and grueling process then.

I know personally that my best ideas have all started off so small that most people would pass right over them but the “genius” of them (if you want to call it that) was in the development phase.

“What if we found a way to play a Michael Jackson song at Christmas?” That thought turned into the Grinch+Thriller.

“Oh crap, Father’s day is in two weeks and we’ve got nothing! Let’s watch this Swagger Wagon video” That thought turned into Dad Life.

It’s not about the genesis moment. It’s all about the developmental process AFTER the genesis moment. Yes, you have to have some kind of leaping off point but so many people are trying to give birth to fully grown creative ideas. I say, give it up.

I promise, if you’ll change your mindset from trying to hatch a genius plan and simply develop the small, seemingly insignificant ideas you already have, you’ll see a world of difference in the quality of your ideas and pretty soon people will be asking you “where do you get your ideas?”

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Whitney George
Lead Pastor
Whitney George is the Executive Pastor at Church on the Move, where he oversees the operations and ministries of the church. Whitney is passionate about the local church and loves connecting with other church leaders. He and his wife, Heather, have five children and he loves Notre Dame football.