The word idea comes from the Greek word idein, to see. So to be able to “see” good ideas, we have to actively hunt for them. The Idea Hunter by Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer tells us how to build the ability to find the best ideas and make them happen. Societies do not progress because of the natural resources they are endowed with but the ideas they come up with. We need to learn how to hunt for ideas. Ideas are not generated so much as they are found. They make an impact when something useful is done with them. Idea Hunters have a huge appetite for acquiring ideas and are highly skilled in implementing them.
The book is full of examples of entrepreneurs like Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Sam Walton who are described as idea hunters. The anecdotes make the book come alive in what would otherwise sound preachy. Take out time every day to learn – would sound clichéd and trite. But the book tells us how Charlie Munger, the legendary investor started his career as a lawyer. When he was going through a patch of the day that was not inspiring enough, he would take an otherwise billable hour of the day and dedicate it to his own thinking and learning. “Only after improving my mind, would I sell my best hour to my clients.” Not everyone can do that. Yet the point that is made is that learning is not something to be done when you have nothing better to do. Or that it has to be made a priority and done deliberately if one has to keep getting better.
One way to remember the technique that is outlined in the book The Idea Hunter is based on I-D-E-A. That stands for Interested, Diverse, Exercise and Agile. That is easy to remember, right?
- Interested: Be interested in the world and people around you. Curiosity takes you further towards your goals than cleverness or brilliance. Idea hunters learn to listen to people even when someone is criticizing something they hold dear to themselves. Intellectual curiosity has the power to improve the job you have done and are doing very well. Many organizations do this by cannibalizing a part of their product range before competition does so.
- Diverse: When setting out on a search, take along an assorted mix of ideas. Make your portfolio of idea-sources diverse. The best ideas will come from someone who may be outside your usual network of contacts, through weak ties. The people in our networks are often people like us. They read the same books, like the same music and have the same socio-economic background. That lack of diversity could stunt your hunt for ideas. Become a bit of a “T-shaped” person – someone with a broad range of interests but with deep knowledge in a few areas.
- Exercise: Make sure you exercise your idea muscle every day. Record your observations. Keep a notebook handy to sketch and write down ideas. Some of the best designers carry out immersion workshops before they design a product or a service. Gillette observed more than one million shaves last year, watching men through a two-way mirror at its research centers. Its researchers examined whether men shaved up or down and how many strokes they used. Gillette found the average number of blade strokes a man takes per shave is between 180 and 200, but the count can be as low as 20 or as high as 700.
- Agile: Ideas need to be implemented. That demands agility to keep steering the idea and making tweaks along the way as you get inputs based on your conversations and fresh data. The space matters. In the Pixar office, Steve Jobs is said to have put the mailboxes, the meeting rooms, the cafeteria and even the bathrooms in the centre so that employees had no choice but to run into each other. Ideas flow when people bounce ideas off each other. Make sure the office design facilitates that.
I liked the book because it tells you ways of implementing ideas. Idea hunting is a state of mind. If you want to find good ideas, actively learn how to hunt for them. The approach works for everyone – a student, a parent, an entrepreneur and the list goes on. The book is written for professionals – for whom ideas matter now more than ever. Just hunting for ideas in itself can turn a routine job into an exciting one.
I loved the book. Go read it.
Published on my blog for Times of India