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How do you come up with creative ideas?


How do you come up with creative ideas?

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bkubicek
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Comments posted to this topic are about the item How do you come up with creative ideas?
manie
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I do not really have someone to brainstorm with since I am the only developer in this company and when I try to use our IT manager (who supposedly was a developer) or the other IT people the accuse me of trying to re-invent the wheel. Now, when the users come to me about a new development or making a current screen/report etc. work better and/or easier, I ask them how do you envision this. Now, I already hear a lot of voices screaming NOOOOO!!!! Calm down! I take their suggestions and work through the rubbish and then come up with a plan. Some of their ideas is actually good sometimes but yes, they are no developers. Otherwise, I take my exam pad, go sit outside in the shade where I can smoke, and open my mind to think creative. That's how I do it! CoolCoolCoolCoolCoolCoolCool

Manie Verster
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South Africa

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I just love my job!!!
call.copse
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Personally I'll talk to my most trusted colleagues, and just talk about some crazy ideas, perhaps laughing at a lot of them. There's a lot of subsequent, 'Well obviously that's not going to work, but how about if you...' There might then be a bit of trying things out, perhaps reviewing what anyone else has done where they may be doing something similar in concept for a small part of their project (we never seem to have that much overlap!). It would proceed from there with tighter iterations of the above, a bit more discussion, which might just be a few words which could spark a new way forward. Then it's polishing, and assessment of the different routes that could be taken and which seems optimal for the job in hand.

It's not scientific but seems to get good results for us anyway. Like Ben says, it's hard to estimate how long it might take, but going through the process definitely results in a good robust solution, long term.
David.Poole
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There are some formalised approaches to this. The Disney approach is quite famous.
Stage One: Capture as many ideas as possible. Do not attempt to prejudge or filter at this stage.
Stage Two: Work out what practical steps can be taken to implement the ideas
Stage Three: Critique the work.

At one​ place I worked we had a management away day where we tried various approaches to solving problems and coming up with the next years operational plan. What we found was that the teams that dwelt too much on the problems to be addressed too early on were the least productive. We concluded that by doing so the team became so disheartened it sapped their energy to solve the problems. "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eye off the goal".

Personally I've found it useful to focus on what would need to change to enable a goal to be achieved. My goal might be to get an AWS RedShift DB into source control. I know DBs under source control are desirable and can be achieved because Red-Gate have done it for SQL Server. Knowing that something is possible eliminates a number of arguments so energy can now be spent on determining how.
I know that breaking DB objects into small units helps so now I can focus on how I can do so.
The other important thing is to accept that practical considerations may eventually render a favoured solution impractical. Just because you have invested a lot of energy into something doesn't make it right. You have to learn to let go. Permission to make mistakes is important. A climate of fear is not conducive to driving innovation

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Tom Gillies
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Some interesting thoughts already. I come up with ideas in two steps:
1) Divergent thinking
2) Convergent thinking
Divergent thinking is where you come up with the ideas and include everything, however apparently impractical. Brainstorming is one way of doing this. This is where "lateral thinking" can come in.
Convergent thinking is where you decide which ideas you are going to look at, assess them and come up with possible implementations.
This is not that different from the Disney approach described earlier. The trick is to do both, separately, and to time-box or otherwise limit the Divergent step. Sometimes it is worth iterating, sometimes not. Iteration works well in the Convergent phase.

Doing the Divergent bit on your own can be difficult, because you (well, I anyway) tend to look at how to implement each "idea" too early, and I can get stuck in a rut of how I do something now. Ways of breaking out of this are to deliberately take some time away from where and how you normally work (the classic lock-yourself-in-a-room, or go somewhere different), work quickly and to introduce some external randomness into the process if you get stuck. I use Brian Eno's "Oblique Strategies" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblique_Strategies). I didn't buy the cards, simply wrote the phrases on the back of old business cards. Some examples of Oblique Strategies prompts are:
*) Try Faking it!
*) Honour your mistake as a hidden intention (that one is famous!)
*) How would someone else (maybe substitute a name) do it?

Tom Gillies

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Joel Ewald
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It depends on the turn around time, but I have used all of the methods outlined. One not mentioned that I have also used is to have a couple different people each build a quick prototype after brainstorming. By comparing the two solutions you usually end up with a pretty solid approach to follow.

I do think it is important to give yourself time to think about it. When I worked on a billing system I would almost always give a 40 hour estimate for many of the enhancements for new rate structures and calculation changes. 3 days to brainstorm and think about it, determine risk assessment and potential impacts to other areas, and then 2 days to generate test data, code the solution, and test everything.

After spending time thinking about the solution the act of writing the code was usually incredibly fast and even unanticipated problems seemed relatively easy to work through.
Chris Harshman
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I have an overactive imagination, so I can easily brainstorm ideas, analyze them, and sort out pros and cons alone. I find the most creative ideas I have though usually come at the oddest of times or while I'm just doing routine things, such as taking a shower or brushing my teeth.


dld
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Chris Harshman - Friday, April 21, 2017 8:08 AM

I have an overactive imagination, so I can easily brainstorm ideas, analyze them, and sort out pros and cons alone. I find the most creative ideas I have though usually come at the oddest of times or while I'm just doing routine things, such as taking a shower or brushing my teeth.


My experience is very much like Chris's. I certainly apply many of the techniques described above, but creativity tends to come when I am engaged in some other activity. Over the years my best ideas have come when I am walking. Fortunately my employer recognizes this and is fine with my long walks at lunch time.
jay-h
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Sometimes creative activity works during downtime. Kary Mullis hit upon the concept of PCR amplification which revolutionized DNA research while take a drive with his girlfriend.

...

-- FORTRAN manual for Xerox Computers --
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I usually do anything not related to the problem I'm trying to solve.
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