If you want to find new ideas, start by breaking existing ideas down into smaller ones. Only then can you see how to build your own.
It’s a little mantra you can say: Ideas are made of other ideas.
No genius in history invented their parents. No legendary artist created the idea of art. Mozart didn’t invent the piano and Picasso didn’t invent paint. We have always borrowed, reused, and remade, standing on the shoulders of ideas that came before us and we always will.
It’s impossible to find any idea that can’t be broken down into smaller ideas. Pick a song, an invention, a philosophy… they are all recombinations of other ideas. Sometimes the grandest ideas, once you ditch the romance, are the easiest to dissect. Until you can see the fact that all ideas are made of other ideas as an immutable law, you’re unlikely to create, since you see ideas in the world as fixed when in truth they are always in motion.
[use] the following simple definition: an idea is a combination of other ideas. Say it five times out loud. Say it to your cat. Yell it out you car window at strangers waiting for the bus. Every amazing creative thing you’ve ever seen, or idea you’ve ever heard can be broken down into smaller ideas that existed before.
An automobile? An engine + wheels. A telephone? Electricity and sound. Reese’s peanut butter cups? Peanut butter and chocolate. All great creative ideas, inventions, and theories are comprised of other ideas.
Why should you care? Here’s why: if you want to be a creator instead of a mere consumer you must see ideas currently in the world as fuel for your mind. You must stop seeing them as objects or functional things: they are combinations of ingredients waiting for reuse.
Of course there is more to know to improve your creative skills. Check out the Dance of The Possible: An Irreverent, and mostly honest, guide to Creativity for solo advice, and The Myths of Innovation if you’re trying to create inside an organization.