A review by Andrew Forward, of Sam Harrison's book on improving your ability to think up great ideas

Be an ideaspotter (not a trainspotter)

Trainspotters is a British slang for loser. It means a dull, obsessed guy whose hobby is hanging out on stating platforms recording the serial numbers of all tains that go by.

Ideaspotters capture ideas, a lot of ideas by exploring new places, making new connections uncovering new insights and using exploration + association. Backbone data alone does not go far enough; especially if you are looking for information (not just data). The brain translates information, inspiration and insight into ideas.

Ideas are spotted with insights, not in forms. Light bulbs were not invented by exploring candles; cell phones were not invented by exploring land lines. To get past what's stifling yuo, move beyond what is staring you in the face.

There is not cookie cutter way to make ideas, but there is definitely a flowing form moving towards exciting and endless ideas.

Ideaspotting starts with exploring

Exploring starts with an open mind

From an open mind, you have creative exploring, leading to fresh experiences resulting in knowledge and insights. Ethnography is the observation and study of people in their natural environments. Watch, ask, even easdrop. Be behind the scenes to explore.

Free-Range Exploration is a way of living, a 24/7 code of curiousity, what's around the corner, check-it-out skill. Firing-Range Exploration is project specific, launching pad, here's the job there my deadline, ready-aim-fire skill.

A Pierian Spring is a source of inspiration. From Greek Methology it was a spring in Macdeonia and was sacred to Muses.

Make frequent deposits to your inspirational bank account by doing lots of free-range exploring. There is always room for more creative exploring.

Here are some categories for free-range exploring.

Entertainment (movies, theatre, music, zoos)
Media (newspaper, magazines, books, tv, radio)
Food (restaurant, snacks, home-cooked)
People (friends, strangers, customers, co-workers)

Start all projects by losnig yourself in experiences (firing-range exploring). Consider losing yourself in customer experiences.

How wide is your world? What is your source for information about...

  1. News about the world?
  2. Keeping current in your field?
  3. Mindful of business world
  4. Interests, needs and lifestyles of older and younger people?
  5. Insight to perspectives of the opposite gender?
  6. Keeping current in science and technology?
  7. Trends in entertainment and style (all difference ages and genders)
  8. Expand knowledge of the arts and humanities
  9. Enlighten physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being

Trais of an ideaspotter - where do you stand? Tolerant, independent, witty, curious, persistence, observant, questionning, optimistic, energetic, passionate, flexible, intuitive and perceptive.

Central to business is the joy of creating - numbers, techniques, analysis are all side matters.

If we had asked the public what they wanted, they would have aid faster horses - Henry Ford

The more you look, the more you find

People do not always tell us what they want or need. Watch people in motion, what do they really need? See the right people. When looking for the alpha-cool-kids, researchers asked a simple question and followed the answer until they found the answer they wanted. The question: "Who is the coolest kid you know?", and the answer they stopped at was "Me".

Look into lifestyles

What publications, websites and events can help you monitor the lifestyles of your audience.

  Publication Website Event

How to better notice details

Think about a street you walk down (or drive on). List all the things that you remember about that street. You will probably do terribly. Now, the next time you walk that street, try to notice every detail (even consider writing it down). Now, take the test again (much better eh?). You can play with exercise with magazines, shops, offices.

The point is to remind the brain that details count. You are training your brain to one day see something magnificant (or oridinary) that builds into a great idea.

Rashomon Effect

The effect of subjectivity of perception. Every event has X versions where X is greater than or equal to the number of witnesses.

Speed-Read Your Environment

Whenever you enter (a room, a building, a park, ...) scan and select. You cannot notice everything (there are over 30,000 products in a supermarket). Train your brain to stop on the inspiring details. Learn to point-and-shoot.

To train your brain (1) record your first impression, (2) catelog the details. Answer questions like how does the space feel, what is the mood, colour, characteristics, smell, and sound?

Get a squirrel camera. When squirrels hide their nuts in the ground, they use spatial hints. A squirrel will look left left, look right and remember their distance (and relative angle to) two key landmarks.

Seeing also depends on your viewpoint. Move close, farther, side ways. Maybe you are looking at great stuff, but you are standing in the wrong spot.

Watch what people do instead of what opinions they give

Jimmy is over at Janet's house for dinner.
Janet's mom askes, "Do you like broccoli Jimmy?"
Jimmy replies, "Sure, I like broccoli fine."
Near the end of dinner, Janet's mom notices that Jimmy has not eaten any of his broccoli.
Janet says, "Jimmy, I thought you said you liked broccoli?"
Jimmy replies, "I like it, I just don't eat it."

Look at the real as opposed to reported behaviour. Customers say on thing, but usually do something else. Buying is an emotional, instinct process. We buy first, then later rationalize our purchase.

The process of AIDA (attention, interest, desire and action) in advertising stops short. We should consider black-hole exploring whereby the traits about our audience are derived from their effect on things around them (just like we cannot observe black holes directly).

Our brain mirror's our environment

Ever cringe at someone getting a needle in their arm? Or nail in their foot?

Our brain makes connections with its environment and we can actually feel what others are feeling (or at least mimic that feeling). Use this brain function to your advantage by watching people in restaurants, parks, airports to help experience their experience.

Experience leads to understanding. Understanding leads to inpiration. Inpiration leads to greatness

3000 facials

Paul Ekman and Wallance Friesen identified over 3000 difference facial configuration that representing certain thoughts and emotions. They developped FACS (Facial Action Coding System) to help read these expressions.

So, pay attention to facial expressions and body language - they tell you a lot more than words. Start a non-verbal diary outlining people you meet, their expressions and the resulting need to be fulfilled.

male teen @ airportsneercockinessgirl's attention

Listening 101

(a) close mouth, (b) open ears.

When you listen, you spot ideas, Active listening involves:

If you like to talk and think that listening is the gap before you start talking again, then

If you are reserved and fret over out to respond in a conversation, then

There are five levels of listening, (a) ignore, (b) pretend, (c) selective, (d) active, (e) empathic (first seek to understand before trying to understand).

Build your ear muscles:

  1. Sit outside, close your eyes and listen
  2. Birds singing, people talking, try to identify each sound

  3. Try to focus on e ear in specific direction
  4. Mentally pull that sound towards you

  5. Cup right ear from behind, left ear from the front (then reverse)
  6. Pay attention to the affects of hearing and perception

sinds of a bad listeners include:

Try to listen without multi-tasking. Ears cannot spot ideas while eyes spot distractions. Don't type at the keyboard, watch TV or make your grocery list when talking on the phone.

Game plan for creative success

(1) listen to your audience; (2) learn their hopes, fears, and dreams; (3) Play back those experiences as stories, songs and images.

Ask the question, play the fool. Don't ask the question, stay the fool.

Indeed continue to ask questions, but quit asking the same tired questions. Avoid always asking "Do you like this, do you like that?", and instead try to focus on more creative questions like "How did this make you feel?", or "What does this remind you of?".

At your next client meeting, what 6 creative questions will you ask? How will you use the answers to these questions.


Stuck for questions? Turn your boring questions into how come questions, like "How come the sky is blue?".

Immersion == understanding

Know what your customers do saturday night. Directly witnessing and experiences behaviour in the real world is a proven way of inpiring new ideas. Watch competitors, dive into your own company and life and breathe your customers.

Mental evolution gives us 3 brains

Seek out the lizard and the leopard

Customers use lizard and leopard for buying decisions (follow up by intellectual to try and justify those decisions).

Make insights easy to use

They must help clients solve problems, focus teams, determine where to invest time and money.

Watch for the WOW factor

Look for reactions in people, visualize the perfect moment customers will experience. Go to where people react to stimuli such as zoos, city streets, parks, museums, galleries and malls. Observe people's first reactions and emotional connection - do they laugh, smile, frown, or shake heads?

Location / ObjectAudience DescriptionReaction

If an idea pops into your head - write it down. If a vision drifts in - sketch it out.

We find ideas one second, forget them the next. Grab ideas while they last, take notes. Leonardo Da Vinci was the most famous notetaker.

Capture words, sketch images. Avoid long sentances, elaborate drawings. Consider tree branching.

Capture each "page" of notes with one keyword in the top corner to help you find it later when you are flipping through the book. Also consider using keywords that can be used in google.

Recall Record
<enter keywords> <enter your notes>

Find the right notebook, index cards and always have pens ready in your idea-hot zones such as the bed, bathroom and kitchen.

Borrowing encouraged in life

Investigate create solutions of other industries. For example, drive-through banks was borrowed from drive-through McDonalds.

Usufruct is the right to use and enjoy the profits from an advantage of another as long as they're idea is not damaged or altered.

List 3 innovative brands / disciplines unlike your own. Explore their problem solving methods.


In all fields, borroing bring on bounty. Explore the masters, who inspires you? Inspect their lives, methods and ideas.

Life imiates art, art imitates life. Borrow from films, plays, concerts, dances, sports. Originality is from new combinations of existing and not something out of nothing.

Explore ideas and techniques from imaginative and energetic services like:

Don't be a NIHlist

Not invested here (NIH) philosophy is an era that is over (for now!). Flush statements like "We don't do it that way", "We don't care what anybody else is doing", "We have all the answers right here", and "It won't work".

Learn new habbits.

Find a trade magazines from 6 unrelated professions or industries. Subscribe, read and spot ideas.

Find new playgrounds

Visit retailers, supermarkets and find 6 clever or useful products. Take that list to work and brainstorm how it might inspire and offer solutions for your situation.

Ask people in, send people out

Have people come in and give workshops / seminars to your employees. Check the paper for exhibits, lectures, gallery openings to send your people to. If you work alone, then take classes, visit museums, attend lectures, cook recipes, network with peers.

Get out of the cube

City tours (start with your own city). Setup an in-house gallery in your office - even if it is vacant storage room. Host or attend lecture series. Invite designers, writers, artists and photographers to talk, have them show work in your gallery.

Create people network because they know that networking works

Networking helps you to stay alert, gather insights. Attend conventions, workshops.

Your networking worksheet

Professional Organizations 
Professional Networking Groups 
Online Forums, chat rooms, ... 
Conferences, conventions 
Self-Organized Networks 

Learn from mistakes, explore failures

Doing so, will generate better and bigger ideas. List 3 mistakes / failures that you have made. How can you convert these mistakes into better ideas?


Make good mistakes - strong efforts but seemingly bad results

Bad mistakes have sloppy, mediocre efforts with bad results (avoid these types of mistakes). Try not to fail because you did a poor job - it is better to fail because of a poor idea. Learn from the mistakes of others, you cannot live long enough to make them all yourself.

objet trouvé - a natural object or artefact not originally intended as art, found and considered to have aesthetic value.

serendipity - spotting of ideas totally unrelated to what you went searching for. You cannot plot the course, you must set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings - only then can you experience serendipity.

Serendipity was coined by Sir Horace Walpole based on a Persian fairy tale of The Three Princes of Serendip.

Soft focus exercise (peripheral awareness). Set a gaze on an object (a soft focus). Expand your awareness around that object (i.e. open up your pheripheral vision). Your body will relax and your mind will quiet.

Nature inspires ideas - build the way nature builds.

Biomimetics - study of biological processes and nature. Methods and ideas to mimic biology and nature.

Take a hike, take notice

List three places to walk to where you can look for ideas from nature.


Being in a velvet rut

boredom is so boring

Boredom is a sympton, not a disease (so stop treating it with drugs). Boredome is a sign of creative starvation. If you are bored, you are a boring person. There is no excuse, it is your own fault for being bored. Get up, get going, start a project, call a friend, call an enemy, write, tear down, build up, do something.

Return to what revs you. Review old school projects, revisit early assignments in your career, recapture passions and basics that you have since left behind.

Tag team projects. Have one designer take over where another leaves off.

Go somewhere

Travel to new places, countries, cities, streets. Take notes on the world, there will be a test. Go alone, it is easier to spot ideas by allowing you complete focus on the experience. It can be easy to dilute an experience with others - image being on the rim of the Grand Canyon and talking about stock port folios with your partner.

Travel without plans (or partial plans). Go where you go, stop where you stop, eat where you eat and see what you see. Leave time to explore, check local events, hop on the wrong train.

Real travellers do not know where they are going, but tourists do not know wher they have been

Sit down, look around. Watch people, focus on a scene, listen to accents, take notes and make sketches.

Travel to different places. You need not always travel far and away to get away.

 Places to goDeadline for going
Day Trip  
New Shop  

When travelling, no phones, no pagers, no work. Be sure to underplan your vacation, and forget about efficiency - there is no need to always work hard to have fun.

This week, plan five 1-hour vacations. No high-tech, no must-do, relax and explore.
Vacation HourDate / DateTime

What if you cannot vacation? But you still feel like you are only seeing old thoughts? MOVE! Go to a nearby park, library, lobby, cafe, mall. Just move!

If you cannot even move, then stay where you are. Make the most of it, if you cannot change place, then change your mind. Appreciate your current surroundings (they are probably better than you think). Do not wit for your next trip to look for ideas.

Open a book

Or magazine and open your mind. Stay in touch in a lot of different fields. Reading can be a source of inspiration. List out three magazines and papers to read.

And list three books to read over the next 3 month.

Visions of childhood

What excited you? What did you drive your parents crazy over? What treasures did you hide? What ideas in these memories can help you with today's projects?

Build a antibiosis file

It means restoring from death-like conditions. So keep a record of all of your failed ideas and revisit them often - you may find something.

Build a seed file

Inchoate ideas and seeds for possible projects. When you spot an idea, label an empty folder and place it in your seed file. Now be on the lookout for places where see things related to your ideas - take notes, newspaper clippings, screen captures (on your computer), photos, etc. So, once you are ready to attack an idea, you already have an arsenal of support stuff to help you out.

Tinker with old ideas

List 3 ideas that you might revive.

Look at bits and pieces - product autoposies. Take apart an annual report, branding campaign, customer service process. Dissect to gain insights on how synergies of materials, manufacturing and design can lead to innovation.

Before putting this summary down