The Real Secret to Coming Up With a Great Idea

Oh, to be the person who comes up with “the great idea”! Solar power! The artificial heart! Potato chips that stack in a can! Great ideas are everywhere, and yet they always seem to be the brainchild of somebody else. So how do you become one of those “somebodies”? How do you become the person who comes up with “the great idea”? Is there a secret to coming up with a great idea?

Yes, and here it is:

Come up with a lot of ideas.

The secret to coming up with a great idea is to come up with a lot of ideas.

When I was the executive producer of Seattle’s hit comedy TV show Almost Live!, we had a regular segment called The Late Report. This segment was basically our version of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. It was a series of jokes about the week’s news. Each Late Report segment typically had eight jokes.

Depending on the staffing at the time, we might have anywhere from eight to ten writers on Almost Live!, each of whom submitted roughly twenty Late Report jokes each week. That means that on any given week, we had between 160 and 200 jokes to choose from.

And we chose eight.

Eight out of 200.

That means we only chose 4% of the jokes that were submitted, and I know this because I just checked the math on my iPhone calculator.

To put it another way, we rejected 96% of the jokes that were submitted. Cruel people might say that we had a 96% failure rate. And, technically, they’d be correct. 96% of the jokes that we wrote for The Late Report never made the cut.

But by having 200 jokes to choose from, it was a pretty sure bet that there’d be eight great ones in there. (These were all Emmy┬« Award winning comedy writers, after all.)

Now, imagine that on one particular week we had eight writers, and that each of them submitted only one joke. We’d have a total of eight jokes, which was the amount needed to fill a Late Report. But the odds that all eight would be great-despite the credentials of the writers-would be pretty slim.

When an Emmy® Award winning comedy writer writes twenty jokes, however, the odds of one of them being great are pretty good.

The secret to coming up with a great idea is to come up with a lot of ideas.

If you’re looking for that great idea in your business-or in your personal life-take a hint from me and the rest of the Almost Live! writers. Don’t just come up with one idea and call it a day. Don’t even come up with two, or three, or five.

Come up with twenty or more. Throw away the ones that don’t make the cut.

And keep the great one.