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How to Come Up With Breakthrough Ideas

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Do you want to know where breakthrough ideas really come from? I’ll give you a clue: they don’t come from some lightning bolt in the sky.

Breakthrough ideas, almost invariably, are found at the intersection of two or more seemingly unconnected things. What do these intersections look like?

  • They look like Johannes Gutenberg connecting a wine processor and movable type and creating the printing press.
  • They look like Steve Jobs connecting computers and a college calligraphy class and creating Apple.
  • They look like a blind boy connecting the feel of a pine cone with reading and creating Braille.
Breakthrough ideas, almost invariably, are found at the intersection of two or more seemingly unconnected things. Click To Tweet

So how do you come up with these connections? How do you join the ranks of geniuses like Johannes Gutenberg, Steve Jobs, and Louis Braille?

One way is by asking what I call Connecting Questions.

A Connecting Question is one that forces your brain to search for those unseen connections. For example, if you see two seemingly unrelated things and then ask, “How is this like that?”—well, you’ve just asked a Connecting Question! And that puts you in a creative space that most people never visit. That’s because most people see two seemingly unrelated things—and just move on.

A Connecting Question is one that forces your brain to search for those unseen connections. Click To Tweet

There were probably, for instance, other students who were interested in computers and who took that exact same calligraphy class. But they never asked the Connecting Question. They never looked for the intersection. It’s like a Venn diagram:

Circle A is computers. Circle B is calligraphy. That’s all most people see. But Steve Jobs saw the intersection, the connection—and that’s where the trillion-dollar breakthrough lived (Apple was the world’s first trillion-dollar company).

Your breakthrough ideas will live at the intersection of two or more seemingly unconnected things. But in order to find them, you need to ask questions like:

  • What’s the connection?
  • Where do these two (or more) things intersect?
  • How is this like that?

In other words, you need to ask a Connecting Question.

Your breakthrough ideas will live at the intersection of two or more seemingly unconnected things. But in order to find them, you need to ask questions like these. Click To Tweet
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About the Author:

For 15 years, Executive Producer and Hall of Fame speaker Bill Stainton, CSP led his team to more than 100 Emmy Awards and 10 straight years of #1 ratings.Today Bill helps leaders achieve those kinds of results--in THEIR world and with THEIR teams.
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