Do you ever wish you were more creative? I do.

There are certainly times when I feel like my mind is buzzing and brimming with ideas, but that’s not the case most of the time.

I spend a bit of time thinking about and discussing how to get ideas.

Now, ideas themselves are cheap - but that’s a topic for another day.

I want to consider idea quality, and specifically with respect to idea diversity.

Take a look around.

There’s a quote commonly attributed to motivational speaker Jim Rohn:

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
via The Polymath Project / Maarten van Doorn

The concept makes sense, and it’s natural. We influence, and are influenced, by the people we spend the most time with. There is probably a positive-feedback loop at play and I suspect many of the effects are subconscious.

Your Core Circle

So these 5 people, let’s call them your “core circle”.

How did that start?

Think for a moment about how you got to know them. Perhaps they’re family and they were always there.

Or friends, or co-workers.

We are more likely to get to know people we meet often.

If we meet often, there is likely some common context for our shared presence.

Even on a macro scale: the general region we live in greatly influences the values that people in that area hold.

So you probably had much in common with these people, even before you really knew them well.

And if you think about co-workers, there is a good chance you do very similar things, and you understand the same industry.

My point is that you are starting in a pretty similar spot with these people. Whether they’ve always been there, or you’re just getting to know them: a lot of similarities.

This is comfortable, and can be a wonderful thing.

But it also opens up a huge gap. Your primary social interactions, and the world that you live in, starts to become an echo chamber.

Interlude: Genetic Recombination, Sexual Reproduction, and Evolution

In high school biology, you may have learned about sexual reproduction as a driver of evolution (drastically oversimplifying here). The basic idea was to create opportunity for future generations to be a little more genetically different from the parents.

This happens because the parents each contribute a portion of their genetic material to the offspring, with this unique blend creating something similar to the parents, but also something new.

This creation of something (genetically) new is the foundation for evolution and natural selection. Significant genetic diversity meant that it was more likely that at least some variant or mutation would be advantageous, thrive, and propagate.

This genetic recombination concept: creating variants so that “better” genetic combinations appear and thrive is an excellent metaphor for generating new ideas as well.

Diversifying Your Mental Inputs

So how does this apply to ideas and creativity?

Consider Apple’s classic slogan: “Think Different”. Or how often you hear the expression “think outside the box”.

People are constantly looking for ways to expand their thinking.

Diversifying your mental inputs will help you think about the same ideas in different ways, and introduce you to new concepts and perspectives altogether.

There’s a good chance this “mixing” of ideas will generate quite a few duds. But you’ll also increase your chances of having many more viable, original ideas.

Beyond Your Core Circle

This is all great, in theory, and I suspect this feels a little obvious. It did to me as well, but I found it to be a valuable reminder.

To that end, I implemented a couple simple systems to help keep my ideas fresh:

1. Keep in touch with old friends who are no longer in your core circle.

This is probably the easiest step, especially with the ubiquity of Zoom, FaceTime, or your video chat service of choice, in addition to plain old messaging. But I don’t mean that you should just say hi - schedule a regular time for a longer-form conversation. Or write a longer email thread. Share what you’re reading, and talk about it.

Why? You already know your old friends, so there is plenty of common ground. But if they’re not in your core circle, they might have changed over time. They’ve lived a bit more of a different life. And that’s an excellent thing. See what they’re up to, and how they see the world these days.

2. To think different, read different.

Read your typical feeds, but branch into other ones. Or see how “the other side” presents the same topic. It’s not something that you need to do constantly, but it is important to do so regularly.

At the very least, it will show you thought processes and assumptions you take for granted, and it may show you your own biases and judgments that diverge from reality (but maybe are not willing to admit.)

You don’t have to agree with what you read or hear.

If you take nothing else from this, that is a big concept we take for granted. It is often easier to not think about some things from scratch. We have limited brainpower and we can’t spend it constantly reinventing the wheel.

But the best way to remind yourself to challenge and not reflexively accept what is presented to you…is to read something you know you’re not going to agree with!

3. Generically try different…miscellaneous…things…etc.

Those are my two big ones because they’re easy ways to push that core circle out a bit, and expand your horizon just a little more.

It’s not enough to stop there, but that should be your first step.

The rest of the tactics, which will be a deep dive on their own article, will take a bit more to implement. Not to say that it is not worth it, but the goal here is small, consistently maintainable habits that compound for lasting change.

A few ideas to keep you thinking though:

  • Try new activities
  • Seek out cross-functional projects at work (i.e., work with people you don’t always work with)
  • Ask a friend to teach you about one of their hobbies that you’ve never tried
  • Volunteer for something
  • Live abroad!

I’ll stop there. But as you can imagine, there’s quite a spectrum of change that you can make to keep your world and your mind agile. I can’t say that I’ll personally embrace the most drastic ones, but some people might!

Until next time!