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6 ways to generate great ideas at work
Sunder Ramachandran
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November 21, 2006

Success at work is often a result of combining knowledge, skills and the ability to inject your work environment with fresh and breakthrough ideas.

While conventional wisdom teaches us to learn skills, and enhance our knowledge for the job, we often forget that we need to keep coming up with new ideas that will help the organisation succeed and also keep our jobs secure in today's competitive landscape.

We offer a few tips towards helping you break out of a routine thought process and generate breakthrough ideas.

Exercise your mind

Your mind, like your body, needs exercise and can get it through challenges and problem-solving. A good way to feed your mind is to read a lot and study the success stories of other businesses and entrepreneurs.

Read case studies related to your industry or biographies of successful people.

This will not only stimulate your grey cells but also provide you a dose of inspiration. Learn how other successful people generate breakthrough ideas.

Capture your thoughts

When the brilliant spells do come, make sure you capture them. Don't rely on mental notes, you'll surely forget them. Have a notepad, PDA or voice recorder ready at all times, even next to your bed at night (who knows, you may suddenly strike gold at 2 am). Once you've recorded your idea, use it as soon as you can. I read an advertisement for IT company Accenture, which said:  "An idea is like a cup of coffee, it's not going to stay hot forever." So remember that ideas are best when they're fresh.

"I always carry a voice recorder with me and tape my thoughts. Listening to them later  in the day ensures that I don't deprive myself of the brilliant phases that we all have during the day," says G Rajaraman, a senior sports correspondent with Outlook magazine.

Change your setting

Your mind reacts to its surroundings and has an uncanny ability to generate new ideas when the physical setting changes. You may be thinking in a very linear and academic way while you are at your workstation, so take your laptop/PDA and sit by in your office garden/park or cafeteria and you may see some fresh perspectives. Take a walk or hit the gym. The mind is agile when the body is indulging in a disciplined and rhythmic physical activity like a jog or workout. For all you know, a change of setting may bring you the inspiration you need.

"I am at my best when I am out in the open with my laptop and listening to my favourite music during a lunch break," says Shelly Jain, a Delhi based consultant with NIIT.

You could even take a notepad and jot down your ideas and thoughts and later organise them when you get to your workstation. The time spent thinking would be worthwhile as you will be away from the usual workplace distractions. 

Go out of your way to help others

Step out of your job description once in a while and help others with their tasks. Do this without having to be asked. Saying, "Need a hand there?" has a two-fold effect. First, you encourage others to give of themselves, creating a more positive workplace.

Second, you buy yourself a future favour, since kindness always comes back. The people you have helped will become soundboards for your ideas and will be able to give you new ideas and suggestions that may get you thinking on a new track.

"A response such as 'This is not my area of work. Find out from the person concerned', shows that the individual is responding from his own frame of reference, an attitude detrimental for both employee and organisation," says Anil Bhatnagar, a management consultant.
Help people whenever they need your expertise. Offer your support to new emloyees as they usually have the ability to come out with bright ideas. Their minds are fresh and have not been conditioned to think in a linear fashion like most tenured employees, so they may springboard some fresh perspectives.

Know your organisation's and customers' needs

You must know if what you have to offer is in high demand at work. Find out the direction in which your company is headed and the areas in which it needs maximum improvement. This will ensure that you ideas have a business impact and act as a catalyst in your growth within the organisation. There's much strength to be derived from knowing how a company operates as a whole. Tailor your ideas to meet the organisational objectives and you will be in a position to add maximum benefit to your organisation.

Did you ever think that companies would be selling fairness cream for men? Emami, a Kolkata-based company with interests in personal and healthcare business realised the need and launched 'Fair and Handsome', a fairness cream for men in April 2006. The executives at Emami realised that in the age of  metrosexual men, who go for manicures and pedicures, a fairness cream, if positioned well, could be a winner in the personal care market for men.

Understand your work environment

In today's teamwork-oriented work environments, no man is an island. You are always a part of the bigger picture that the organisation has in mind. Expose yourself to different realities. If you are a marketing person, go and spend some time with the finance team or the product management team and ask them questions about their nature of work.  Learn to see things from their perspective. The best ideas sometimes come from looking outside the familiar and that is what "thinking out of the box" means. founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were batchmates at Stanford when the thought of empowering people by creating an easy search mechanism hit them. The advertisement depicting Hari Sadu as the monster boss is a good example of out-of-the-box thinking, because it mixes humour with a message.

So keep your eyes and ears open and indulge in some idea generation activities.

How do you generate good ideas at work? Post your tips and experiences

-- Sunder Ramachandran is a managing partner at W.C.H Solutions, a training solutions organisation. He can be reached at

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