Have you ever felt under pressure to come up with a new idea? Or maybe you get so many ideas it’s too overwhelming to follow through on any of them.
Andrea John-Smith, President of the Association of Fundraising Professionals is a woman with a passion for helping humanity. Not only does she have a plethora of ideas, but she also knows how to filter through the abundance of thoughts and get to the heart of what really matters. Her approach is to say yes to all the ideas coming in from a variety of sources; then choose the ones that will benefit society. She shares 5 more tips that will help you generate ideas and follow-through on them.
1) Use more than your brain. Being trained as an improvisational jazz vocalist, Andrea learned and continues to use the intelligence of her entire body. She taps into her mind/body intelligence allowing information to come in from her all of her senses. To the degree she can let go of preconceptions, she can tap into something much bigger. Just as each audience is different and may evoke a different performance, each organization has a different feel too. Andrea likens her consulting practice to an artistic process. She doesn’t know what’s going to come out until it does. When she first started working as a non-profit consultant, she felt a little like a machine that someone would pop a quarter in and expect an idea. But she soon realized that wasn’t the best way to serve them. Now she feels what’s going on in the moment and with the people in the organization. She accesses deeper insights when she forgets herself and sees herself as a conduit for what wants to come through.
There are plenty of workshops that will help you make use of your mind/body intelligence. I offer them when I coach people on their presentation skills. For now, just take a deep breath. Wiggle your toes, put attention on your right elbow or anything that will help you fully inhabit your body. In this fast-paced society, most people live in their heads and aren’t taking advantage of the enormous amount of intelligence in the rest of their body. Each cell in your body has wisdom. Once you’ve connected with yourself, look around and be curious about what’s going on all around you.
2) Look for ways to create the optimal conditions that will allow new ideas to evolve. Surround yourself with a friend or mentor who will be a trusted witness. They’ll help you articulate things you already know. Parker Palmer refers to this as a circle of trust in his book “A Hidden Wholeness.” Find someone who appreciates original thought and encourages you to bring new ideas out into the open.
Andrea describes maturity as being able to call on others the moment she finds herself in struggle or confusion. Going out to coffee with a colleague or talking it out with her husband gives her a chance to express it, get another viewpoint and then take her idea to a higher level. Sometimes it’s just a matter of someone sitting with her as she talks it through, sleeping on it and then waking up with the perfect idea.
Who are 3 people you know who will hold a space for you and be a witness to the birth of your ideas? Be aware of people in your life who are quick to judge ideas and minimize the time you spend with them.
3) Trust that the idea will come. Andrea remarked that in the beginning she felt pressure to produce an idea for a client. She’s since learned to embrace ambiguity and enjoy the mystery that’s about to unfold. The more she gets out of the way and knows that it’s OK to feel blank for a while, the more the ideas flow. Feeling a sense of panic when an idea doesn’t come simply creates an environment of constriction. Andrea knows that lack of clarity is OK in the beginning. That’s exactly how it should be. Groping along is a sign of progress!
Put your attention on those times when ideas magically came to you. The more you acknowledge these times, the easier the process will be for you. Have faith that ideas will come again and they will.
4) Get clear on the vision and the group’s collective values. Identify your top values, bring in ideas and then see how they align. When one of Andrea’s clients wanted 10 ideas, she remarked that what they really needed was a bigger conversation. Rather than feeling like a prodigy, Andrea engaged everyone during a brown bag lunch. She encouraged people to go beyond the standard responses into the deeper reasons of why they do what they do. When they got to the heart of their values they decided how to take action… no matter what. You can have hundreds of ideas, but a sincere commitment on your collective ‘amen’ will make your dreams a reality.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with ideas, take one step back and get clear on your overall mission. Filter each idea through what you want to accomplish. Ditch the ones that won’t get you where you want to go.
5) Read books and get systems that help you organize your thoughts. Andrea recommends the book “Getting Things Done; The Art of Stress-free Productivity”. The author, David Allen makes a case for how your productivity is directly proportional to your ability to relax. Andrea’s friends kid her about the matrix of ideas on her PDA. But having a system to capture her ideas and organize them when she has a spare minute or two frees her mind and helps her achieve her goals.