Finding the Ideas: Where Great Ideas Come From

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Our culture places a very high value on creativity. We give TED Talks about it, write books about it, and generally spend a lot of time contemplating it. But despite all this talk, it remains stubbornly elusive. There’s no two ways about it: it’s hard to be creative. It just might be one of the hardest things people try to do.

Creative thinking is affected by your entire being: how you slept last night, what you ate today, what you read before you went to sleep last night—the list goes on. But it turns out that a lot of creativity has to do with your working environment. Where you work affects how you think, and there are many studies to prove it.


Hotels are a great sort of limbo between real life and fantasy. The setting is dingily cinematic, familiar and alien all at once. It seems like strange things could easily have happened in this room, maybe even quite recently. Likewise, all you have in the way of entertainment is pay-per-view TV, so they can become incubators for ideas.

Think about it: you’re alone in an unfamiliar city. What a perfect time to get some real thinking done! Sure, you could spring for the wifi and just connect to the world like you always do, but maybe stay off the grid for a night, and see what your mind cooks up while the internet’s out.

And, research shows you’ll be in good company. The famous author Maya Angelou is said to always have booked hotel rooms to do her writing, finding them to be perfect for removing distractions and focusing on the task at hand. In her words: “I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything.”

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Trains and planes

Sometimes it can be hard to take the time to get creative because you feel like you should be spending time working on something more immediately rewarding. But time spent traveling is essentially dead time: you have to spend that time moving, and there’s a limit to the amount of other work you can get finished on your way.

But, taken another way, these cramped spaces are perfect little workshops. They’re slightly uncomfortable, so they naturally encourage you to be introspective. The scenery flows by serenely yet quickly, changing, but staying static at the same time. You’re free to let your eyes glaze over as you look through the window and get that thought just right before you put it down on paper.

There’s a lot of evidence that many writers found trains to be excellent sources of creativity and great places to write. Amtrak even offers a writer’s residency, where they say writers can do their work in “unique workspace of a long-distance train.”

In public

Next time you need to make that breakthrough, grab a notebook and head out for a coffee. Take the coffee to somewhere nice and busy, like a central square (or even stay at the cafe if it seems to be a lively place). Sit somewhere a bit further back, where you can see a wide angle of all the action. And just watch. Try to figure out what’s happening with each of these people you can see, their fears, motivations, dreams, and desires. Imagine what it’s like to be them.

This can be a great way to remove yourself from your own context and really inspire some creativity, and better yet—it’s supported by science. A recent study showed that the background noise of a cafe is the perfect balance between loud and quiet, and it allows us to focus without becoming lost in our own minds. Not at a coffee shop? Try Coffitivity, a website that plays coffeeshop background noise so you can focus wherever you are.

A library or bookstore

Sometimes, the most important creation is just brute-forced out of your brain. Sometimes you have to sit and just work at something for hours on end, squeezing every tiny step out of your mind like a damp rag. These are the tough ideas, and they take dedication.

It’s also, unsurprisingly, the perfect place to read, and many studies have shown reading to be essential for stimulating creativity. The library or a bookstore is the perfect place to sit in silence with absolutely no distraction and turn your unbroken focus to the task at hand.

The Automation of Creativity

Not only are people looking for ways to think creatively, but they are looking to remove the burden by letting lines of computer code put the pieces together. Things like business name generators, online logo makers, and copywriting computers are becoming increasingly popular as businesses pursue every avenue to cut costs and save time. Although there is an argument that these tools are the death of creativity, you cannot deny that automation like this requires an immense amount of creativity to design and develop.

Nick RojasNick Rojas is a business consultant and writer at Writerzone who lives in Los Angeles. He has consulted small and medium-sized enterprises for over twenty years. He has contributed articles to, Entrepreneur, and TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas

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