What is an idea and how do I come up with ideas?

What is an idea?

According to the OED, an idea is the “conception of a standard or principle to be realized or aimed at; a conception of what is desirable or ought to be; a governing conception or principle; the plan or design according to which something is created or constructed.”

An idea, in other words, is a solution to a problem that we may or may not be aware of. It may respond to a certain need, and it usually benefits individuals or groups.

An idea can be an entirely new approach, something that no-one has thought of before. More often, though, an idea simply means translating a preexistent practice or process to a new context.

Generating new ideas

Here are a few suggestions on how can you come up with ideas more easily:

  • Brainstorm.

    You can make a mind map, a list or any other form of writing down all your thoughts. Push yourself to go beyond what comes to your mind at first. The more ideas you can get down on paper, the more likely it is that there will be a good idea in there.

    Image by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash.

  • Research.

    Know what is already out there. If you know the field and problem that you want to work on, you will not only be able to identify gaps but also develop potential new approaches. In fact, generating ideas is closely linked to what Oxford teaches you about research.

Image by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash.

  • Communicate.

    Put your ideas out there and discuss them with friends and colleagues. You will certainly get asked questions and receive valuable feedback. This way you can develop your ideas or come up with new ones.

    Our Oxford Ideas platform encourages discussion and collaboration to help you make the most of your ideas. 

  • Ask ‘old’ questions anew.

    Pick up old questions and try to think of new answers. With digital innovations moving fast, you are likely to find that there are new ways of tackling well-known issues by thinking beyond traditional approaches. Another strategy you can try is to rephrase your questions. This way you will be looking at a problem from a new angle and will be more likely to generate ideas.

Image by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash.

  • Be creative.

    Do something creative that is not directly linked to the problem you are trying to solve. This could be anything from photography to drawing to knitting. Since you’re focused on your creative task, your brain can wander off. Plus, By putting yourself into a situation where you need to be creative, you are adopting the right mindset to come up with more new ideas.

What are your strategies for coming up with new ideas? Share them in the comment section below.

If you already have a good idea for an innovative project and would like to receive funding in order to put that idea into practice, submit your idea on the Oxford Ideas platform until 4 Feb (noon). Please email us at innovation@it.ox.ac.uk if you have any questions.

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