We all have good ideas. We all have bad ideas. And we all have those annoying in-between ideas that we know aren’t good, but they’re not obviously bad either. Those are the worst, because unlike obviously bad ideas, the in-between ideas are often bad ideas disguised as good ideas trying to trick you into running with them.
As a CEO, my primary job is to make decisions. That means I need to have good ideas and be able to tell the difference between them and bad ideas in disguise. It’s not easy. We all have millions of ideas a day. If you’re a founder (or if you want to be one) you probably gnaw on decisions and come up with a hundred possible ways of making the decision.
While I don’t think it’s possible to stop coming up with bad and in-between ideas (and don’t think you would want to as they are critical parts of the brainstorming process), I’ve found that there are certain things I can do to ensure that I have a higher percentage of good ideas–and most importantly that I’m able to clearly identify them as good ideas.
I’ve developed these four strategies through years of trial and error–and lots of conversations with other founders:
1. Get the endorphins flowing.
This one is obvious. But it works. Going on a run, or a bike ride or even a fast walk while thinking through a decision often brings me my best ideas.
At the beginning of the workout I let my mind wander and don’t think about the decision at all. About halfway through the workout, when the endorphins start kicking in, I find my mind circling back to whatever was stressing me out during the day.
That’s when I always start to see the decision from new angles and have some of my best ideas. For me, running and biking are best because the rhythm of the movement tends to lull my mind into a more clear state.
2. Focus on desired outcomes versus actions.
When we have big decisions we tend to focus on all the things we can do, instead of the desired outcome we’re trying to achieve. Making decisions in a vacuum makes it extremely difficult to differentiate good ideas from bad ones, so starting with the context of your desired outcome is critical to being able to sort the signal from the noise.
Whenever I need to make a decision I first ask myself a simple question: “what do I want the outcome to be?” Let’s say I’m deciding between two hires for a certain role. If I simply compare the two candidates in a vacuum, there are hundreds of different dimensions I can use to make the decision, which makes it extremely difficult. If I first identify what I want to out of the hire, I am then simply deciding which candidate will be most likely to achieve that.
3. Learn something new.
We all have our own perspectives and lenses through which we see the world. One of the best strategies I’ve found to ensure I have good ideas is to proactively broaden my perspective by learning new things. It could be as simple as watching a Netflix documentary on design, or as immersive as traveling to a foreign country to witness a different way of life.
The more I learn, about all sorts of random things seemingly unrelated to my business, the more well rounded my lens of the world becomes and the more holistically I can look at problems.
4. Don’t let the important moments overwhelm you.
The most important strategy I’ve learned about having good ideas is to never let the most important moments and decisions overwhelm you. I know working out helps me think more clearly, but I still find myself giving the same excuse “I should really go workout, but I don’t have time because this decision is so big”.
We all find ourselves in this paradox. The most important decisions become all consuming and for some reason we forget to do the things we know will help us make the best decision.
100 brilliant strategies on having good ideas won’t work if we throw them all out the window when the most important decisions come around. Just like professional athletes who warm up the same way for practices as the biggest games of their lives, we have to remember to use the strategies we find most effective when the most is on the line.