Disclaimer: I have no idea (no pun intented), do the following methods help to actually get the ideas or insights. At least they seem to work for me. Also, this is somewhat representation of the ideal world. I have never really enough time to read all the books, magazines & websites I intend to. But I surely try to.
I think coming up with ideas and insights is mostly hard work. Writing them down, bouncing them with the team and killin the not-so-good-ones. That is why I also do not really believe in being inspired when coming up with ideas. It of course helps. You might wait whole your life of inspiration and watch as the deadlines pass by. There is no shortcut for perspiration.
I am more of a believer of being in a state of constant inspiration all the time. This is achieved by the following method:
1. Mental Scrapbook: Picking things constantly at random
I do not even know all that I don´t know. That is why I really believe in constant idea gathering. You just observe, read and pick things at random all the time. Do not stress about how useful they are, just round yourself with different ideas. They might or might not become handy later on:
For gathering food for thought for ideas in Internet, I rely on social media:
1) Facebook: What is really popular?
Besides I think Facebook is the pulse of what is really happening on the Internet. What news start to catch on? What videos are hot? What topics are people discussion on? Also knowing most of the people, you can socially filter the content: why this people share this and may be. Also it is always great to just spy on your old friends.
2) Twitter: What is popular in professional circles?
I follow mainly Twitter accounts, which are somehow connected to my professional life (and couple of rap artists). Through this channel you encounter ideas from places you are not that used to and which you are not yet familiar.
3) Google reader: The thinkers I want to follow
Some have said that blogs are dead, but those who say that are dead wrong. The sheer volume of blogs I actively follow has probably reduced during the years. The quality on the other hand has increased. Coming up with a blog post of a good thinking is a respectable feat and if done well, it beats 140 characters any time. Good blog post is also timeless. That is why I do not stress if I have not for some reason gone through my blogroll for a while.
4) Writing blog: Testing out ideas
I learn by writing. That is the most important reason for me to blog. This is the litmus test for the ideas. If some of the ideas spark a discussion, it is just an added bonus.
5) Bookmarking: Making an idea scrapbook
If I encounter something interesting I bookmark it. I use del.ici.ous, mainly because I have gotten accustomed to it. In there I have just lots of odd stuff, which might become useful some day.
b) Other reading
I have always at least three books going on and it is very rare that I don´t finish a book (with the expection of Ulysses, which nearly ruined one of my summer holiday). Depending on the time, the finishing of the book might take a day or month. I usually only read books when I commute or have to wait for a long time somewhere.
I use libraries quite a lot, because it is great place to find great books which you would not read otherwise. I just pick up books with interesting names, covers and blurps. Sometimes they are great, sometimes horrible. However, I really have not read so bad book that I have not learned anything from it.
For the three books I try to have a healthy balance of different content:
a) Professional: Just opened Del Breckenfeld: The Cool Factor, a book about partnership marketing.
b) Non-fictional (but non-professional): As a big fan of 30 Rock, I am currently reading Tina Fey´s Bossypants.
c) Fictional: Trying to test out Singaporean literature, I started out easily with Singaporean detective story:Shamini Flint-Inspector Singh Investigates: The Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder
I think the biggest mistake many professionals do is to read too little of fiction books. Mediocre fiction beats good business book.
I read couple of magazines frequently (VF, New Yorker, Fast Company), but try to grab occassionally pretty much everything I see. For example, when I go to the barbershop, I always check out Cosmopolitan and other women´s magazines. Other thing which I always try to do is to read all the stories cover-to-backcover in certain magazine. This way you encounter stuff you would not necessarily choose to pick if you would choose it yourself.
I read newspaper every morning. I know it is old-school. That is usually enough to know what is happening in the world so that you do not appear stupid during the day and you do not have to spend time during the day to follow all the news in Internet news channels. Usually if something major happens during the day you will see it in social media.
e) Other popular culture
Actually the same process that goes to the books applies to movies, music and other things. I try watch the most popular movies, just to understand what makes people tick. Then you just try learn from the experience. And enjoy it as well. Although the enjoying bit is easier for me with the new Superhero-movies than for example Twilight-series. Other than the smash-hits, movie or music festivals are great way to get yourself familiar with the more obscure art. For example there is Japanese Film Festival going on here and I would haven´t probably see those movies anywhere else.
f) Personal talks
I think one of the hardest thing about ageing is that you do not get to see as much new people as you used to be. Especially being in the same place for a long time, you end up spending your time with the same people all the time. That is good to move once in a while, so that you are forced to meet new people.
g) Travelling & observing
It is easy to pick things at random when you are in totally new place. The skill is to find something new and worthwhile in the place you are staying for a long time. It is so easy to just fell on the certain routines. My noble goal is that whenever I am, I try to test something new every week. Currently it has been really easy, because I have been in Singapore only couple of months.
2. Building up specialty: Frequent deep-dives
With couple of topics I tend to go deeper and also frequently and actively search the information about it. Those topics include such as social media (professional) & hiphop-music (non-professional). I think the main difference with frequent deep-dives and random idea gathering, is that former is more conscious effort and the other just happens more organically.
3. Hitman-for-hire: Case-specific deep-dives
When I start working with a new client, project or am working with the pitch for a new client, I usually follow the following steps to gather food-for-thought for ideation process.
a) Search of your mental scrapbook
I first go by all the material from the category, brand, company and product which I have already encountered: all the books, bookmarks, magazine stories, discussions and such. This provides the backbone of where I continue my search further.
b) Specified reading
After going through the mental scrapbook, I dive deeper to the subject. I try to read at least couple of the highly-regarded books and industry magazines about the subject to get on the right mood.
c) Industry outreach
Picture might worth a thousand words, but a good discussion is worth probably a million. Try to spend as much time with the client as possible. Meet people from the same category, client´s customers and people from the target audience. Try to pick them brain as effectively as possible.
d) Observe the marketplace
Especially with FMCG gategory, I try to spend as much time as possible in different retail stores packing that brand or competitor´s product as possible. By observing actually shopping behavior you learn so much.
e) Use the product
With B2B-category this might be trickier and there might be certain limitations with other products as well. You should still try to immerse yourself with the product in question as deep as possible. And again I cannot stress the importance of talking with the target audience and the actual users of the product.
On the next part, I will reveal the “process” of the actual ideation process when I am working with the tight deadline.
Inspiration is hard to come by when you are forced to, that´s why you should try be in a state of constant inspiration by randomly stumbling on interesting things.