Want to get new ideas? Set a quota.

Don’t be a slug. Read weird stuff. Roger Firestien

How many ideas do you need to get a good one?


Do you have to come up with hundreds of ideas to get a breakthrough? It all depends on the kinds of ideas you want.

If you want to find ways to improve the way you are currently doing business, you will need fewer ideas than if your goal is to completely redefine the nature of your business or your life.

We can’t precisely predict the number of ideas you will need to get a new insight; but setting an idea quota helps.

Forty to fifty ideas is a reasonable idea quota if you are generating ideas to improve your present methods. More than fifty ideas will help you begin to really stretch your thinking. But if you want to fully recreate your work and foster disruptive ideas, try a quota of 100+ ideas.


It’s really one-third/one-third/one-third

After analyzing hundreds of idea-generating sessions, and reviewing the work done by Alex Osborn, the inventor of brainstorming, and Sidney Parnes, Osborn’s collaborator and one of the originators of the original Creative Problem-Solving process, there was a trend that emerged. It was the one-third / one -third / one-third principle.

Let’s say your goal is to generate 40 ideas for solving a problem.

Want to get new ideas?The first one-third – the first 10-12 ideas – usually don’t produce any breakthroughs. These ideas are the ones that people have thought of before. The silly ideas surfaced from about idea 12 to 24, the second 1/3. Finally, new ideas and insights typically emerge after ideas 30-35 – the third one-third.

To take this principle a bit further, the first one-third tend to be the obvious and incremental ideas, the second one-third are the ridiculous but sometimes brilliant ideas and the third one-third are the game changers and disrupters.


The bottom line is this.

If you are consistently generating 10 to 12 ideas in your idea generating sessions and you think you are getting creative, YOU ARE NOT. 

The creativity comes in the stretch. The innovation comes in the stretch. Go for the third one-third. You will be glad you did.

photos courtesy of City of Ft. Collins, CO.



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