The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine

idea machine

The way to have good ideas is to get close to killing yourself. It’s like weightlifting. When you lift slightly more than you can handle, you get stronger.

In life, when the gun is to your head, you either figure it out, or you die.

When you cut yourself open, you bleed ideas. If you’re broke and close to death, you have to start coming up with ideas.

If you destroy your life, you need to come up with ideas to rebuild it.

The only time I’ve been FORCED to have good ideas is when I was up  against the wall. My life insurance policy was like a gun to my head:  “Come up with good ideas… OR ELSE your kids get your life insurance!”

At an airport when I realized a business I had been working on for four years was worthless.

Or when I was sitting in the dark at three in the morning in the living  room of the house I was going bankrupt and losing my home, my brain figuring out how to die without anyone knowing it was planned.

Or when I was getting a divorce and I was lonely and afraid I wouldn’t  make any money again or I wouldn’t meet anyone again. Or my kids would hate me. Or my friends would be disgusted by me.

The problem is this: you’re NOT in a state of panic most of the time. States of panic are special and have to be revered. Think about the times in your life that you remember – it’s exactly those moments when you hit bottom and were forced to come up with ideas, to get stronger, to connect with some inner force inside you with the outer force.

This is why it’s important NOW to strengthen that connection to that idea force inside of you. This post is about HOW.

Nothing you ever thought of before amounted to anything – that’s why  you are exactly where you are at that moment of hitting bottom. Because all of your billions of thoughts have led you to right there. You can’t trust the old style of thinking anymore. They came, they saw, they lost.

You have to come up with a new way of thinking. A new way of having ideas. A new ways of interacting with the outside universe.

You’re in crisis. Time to change. Time to become an IDEA MACHINE.

People know what “runner’s high” is. It’s when you are running for a  long time, at the point of exhaustion, and then something kicks in and  gives you a “second wind”.

400,000 years ago people didn’t jog for exercise. They didn’t even have jogging shorts. Or sneakers.

400,000 years ago people need to eat and live. And either you’re  running to catch a prey, or you are running from a lion. You’re the  prey! And you need that second wind in both cases or you DIE.

The same thing happens in the brain. When you are about to die, a second wind kicks in. Ideas, experiences, opportunity, and probably hidden forces and neurochemicals we don’t understand.

But you can’t get runner’s high unless you’re ALREADY in good shape. Unless you are already able to run long distances.

This is why it’s important to exercise the idea muscle right now. If your idea muscle atrophies, then even at your lowest point you won’t have any ideas.

How long does it take this muscle to atrophy? The same as any other muscle in your body: just two weeks without having any ideas. Atrophied.

If you lie down in a bed for two weeks and don’t move your legs you will need physical therapy to walk again.

Many people need idea therapy. Not so that they can come up with great ideas right this second (although maybe you will) but so that people can come up with ideas when they need them: when their car is stuck, when their house blows up, when they are fired from their job, when their spouse betrays them, when they go bankrupt or lose a big customer, or lose a client, or go out of business, or get sick.

IDEAS ARE  THE CURRENCY OF LIFE. Not money. Money gets depleted until you go broke. But good ideas buy you good experiences, buy you better ideas, buy you better experiences, buy you more time, save your life. Financial wealth is a side effect of the “runner’s high” of your idea muscle.

Whoah! That was a big intro. Depending on where I post this, some people  will write “tl;dr” which I had to look up and it means “too long,  didn’t read.” I encourage those people to stop reading here and save  yourself the trouble. It’s OK. I’m not mad at you. I’ll write smaller  articles also. I’ll even draw cartoons.

Here’s a condensed version of this post: How to be THE LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET in 4 Easy Steps

I’ve often written about the idea muscle as part of what I call my “daily practice”. Every day I have to check the box on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

And I get a lot of questions about it so I will try and answer them here. If you have more questions, ask in the comments and I will answer.

Sometimes people ask, “did you only start coming up with ideas because you already had it made?

ANSWER: I was on the floor crying because I was dead broke and dead lonely and had no prospects so that’s why I had to do it.

So now, 1000 words in (“tl;dr”) The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Becoming an Idea Machine….

The below is what I do and what works for me. If you have anything to  add, please add them in the comments, I need all the help I can get.


You will be like a superhero. It’s almost a guaranteed membership in the Justice League of America.

Every situation you are in, you will have a ton of ideas. Any question  you are asked, you will know the response. Every meeting you are at, you will take the meeting so far out of the box you’ll be on another  planet, if you are stuck on a desert highway – you will figure the way  out, if you need to make money you’ll come up with 50 ideas to make  money, and so on.

After I started exercising the idea muscle, it was like a magic power had unleashed inside of me. It’s ok if you don’t believe me. Or maybe you think it’s bragging. There are many times when I don’t have ideas. But that’s when I stop practicing what I am about to advocate.

Try it for yourself. I’m not selling anything here. I have no reason for you to try this. I just want to share my exerience. It’s like part of your brain is opened up and a constant flow of stuff, both good and bad, gets dropped in there.

From where? I don’t think about it and I don’t care. But I use it.

In early 2009 was one of those times when I desperately needed to do  this. I was fulltime either trying to find a girlfriend or I was trying to start a business or both. I was also going broke in the stock market  and losing my home (until I personally saved the entire stock market –  see my book).

Every night, I’d have waffles for dinner and a bottle of wine and start writing ideas down. This is before I went paleo (no waffles!) and stopped drinking alcohol (five years sober!) and I was writing 10-20 of the most ludicrous ideas a day down.

And you know what ? It worked.

B) How do I start exercising the idea muscle?

Take a waiter’s pad. Go to a local cafe. Maybe read an inspirational  book for ten to twenty minutes. Then start writing down ideas. What  ideas? Hold on a second. The key here is, write ten ideas.

C) Why a waiter’s pad?

A waiter’s pad fits in your pocket so you can easily pull it out to jot things down.

A waiter’s pad is too small to write a whole novel or even a paragraph.  In fact, it’s specifically made to make a list. And that’s all you want, a list of ideas.

A waiter’s pad is a great conversation starter if you are in a meeting. Someone at the meeting will eventually say, “I’ll take fries with my burger” and everyone will laugh. You broke the ice and you stand out.

A waiter’s pad is cheap. You can get about 100 for $10 (but you can get one for free here). This shows you are frugal and don’t need those fancy moleskin pads to have a good idea.

Oh, and I just found out another reason for a waiter’s pad while I was writing this. Someone with alcohol on his breath, a bottle in hand, looking like he could crush me with one hand, just came up to me in the cafe I’m sitting at and asked for money. I held up my waiter’s pad and said, “Can I take your order?” and he said, “OH!” and he walked away.

D) Why ten ideas?

If I say, “write down ten ideas for books you can write” I bet you can  easily write down four or five. I can write down four or five right now.  But at six it starts to get hard. “Hmmm,” you think, “what else can I  come up with?”

This is when the brain is sweating.

Note that when you exercise in the gym, your muscles don’t start to  build until you break a sweat. Your metabolism doesn’t improve when you run until you sweat. Your body doesn’t break down the old and build the new until it is sweating.

The poisons and toxins in your body don’t leave until you sweat.

The same thing happens with the idea muscle. Somewhere around idea  number six, your brain starts to sweat. This means it’s building up.  Break through this. Come up with ten ideas.

E) What if I just can’t come up with ten ideas?

Here’s the magic trick: if you can’t come up with ten ideas, come up with 20 ideas.

F) Bit if I can’t come up with 10, how am I supposed to come up with 20?

For the obvious reason. You are putting too much pressure on yourself. Perfectionism is the ENEMY of the idea muscle. Perfectionism is your brain trying to protect you from harm. From coming up with an idea that is embarrassing and stupid and could cause you to suffer pain.

We like the brain. But you have to shut the brain off to come up with ideas.

The way you shut the brain off is by forcing it to come up with bad ideas.

So let’s say you’ve written 5 ideas for books and they are all pretty  good. And now you are stuck. “How can I top this brilliant list of  five!?”

Well, let’s come up with some bad ideas. Here’s one: “Dorothy and the Wizard of Wall Street”. Dorothy is in a hurricane in Kansas and she lands right at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street in NYC and she has to make her way all the way down Wall Street in order to find “The Wizard of Wall Street” (Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs) in order to get home to Kansas. Instead, he offers her a job to be a high frequency trader instead.

What a bad idea! OK, now go onto the next 15 ideas.

G) How do I know if an idea is a good idea?

You won’t. You don’t. You can’t. You shouldn’t.

Let’s say you come up with ten ideas a day. In a year you will have  come up with 3,650 ideas (no breaks on weekends by the way if you want to get good at this). Maybe more if you are trying to do 20 ideas a day.

It’s unlikely that you came up with 3,650 good ideas (after you become  an idea machine your ratio goes up but probably in the beginning your  ratio of bad ideas to good is around 1000:1).

Don’t put pressure on yourself to come up with good ideas. The key right now is just to have good ideas. When Tiger Woods is practicing he doesn’t get disappointed himself if he doesn’t hit a hole in one every shot. You’re just practicing here.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. But practice makes permanent. So that later on when you do need good ideas to save your life, you know you will be a fountain of them.

When there’s a tidal wave of good ideas coming out of you, you only need a cup of water out of that to quench your thirst.

H) How do I execute on my idea?

Here’s what I do often when I am writing down ideas that I think I might want to act on.

I divide my paper into two columns.

On one column is the list of ideas. On the other column is the list of  “FIRST STEPS”. Remember, only the first step. Because you have no idea where that first step will take you.

Imagine you are driving 100 miles to your home late at night. You turn on your headlights so you can see in front of you. All you can see is about 30 feet in front of you but you know if you have the lights on the entire time, you’ll make it home safely, 100 miles away.

Activating the idea machine is how you turn the lights on so you can get home. But you don’t need to do any more than that.

One of my favorite examples: Richard Branson didn’t like the service on some airline he was flying. So he had an idea: I’m going to start a new airline. How the heck can a magazine publisher start an airline from scratch with no money?

His first step. He called Boeing to see if they had an airplane he could lease.

No idea is so big you can’t take the first step. If the first step seems to hard, make it simpler. And don’t worry again if the idea is bad. This is all practice.

For instance, let’s say one of my ideas is: “I want to be a brain surgeon”. My first step: I would buy a bunch of books on how to do brain surgery. I don’t have to plan my whole way through medical school.

Wait!? Did I just say I would be a brain surgeon without a medical degree? No. I simply had a bad idea and the first step I would take if I was going to “execute” on that idea. And, yes, I’m absolutely confident I would be able to do successful brain surgery before someone throws me in jail (hence, the bad idea aspect of it).

A real life example: In 2006 I had ten ideas for websites I wanted to build. I knew how to program but didn’t want to. So my first step was to find a site like Elance and then put the spec up and find programmers in India who could make the websites for me. One of them I paid $2000 to develop and sold for $10,000,000 9 months later. (this is not bragging – I went dead broke about 2 years after that).

Nine of the ten ideas were BAD. But you only need one.

I) Bit if I’m coming up with business ideas, how do I know if I’m on the right track?

There’s no way to know in advance if a business idea is a good one. For  instance, Google started around 1996 but didn’t make a dime of money  until around 2001.

Here’s my favorite example. A company called Odeo was a software company to help people set up podcasts. Since I do a podcast now this seems like a great idea to me. So they raised a ton of money from professional venture capitalists.

Then one of their programmers started working on a side project. The side project got a little traction but not much. But the CEO of Odeo decided to switch strategies and go full force into the side project without having a clue if it would work.

He felt bad since this isn’t what the investors invested in. So he called up all of the investors, some of the best investors on the planet, and described the side project to them and all the traction they were getting, etc and then made an offer, “Since this is a different direction, I’d be willing to buy all of your shares back so nobody will lose any money.”

100% of his investors said, “YES! GIVE IT BACK!” and so he bought all of his investors’ shares back. Now, Ev Williams, the founder of Twitter (which was the side project), is a billionaire as a result.

Nobody knew. Nobody knows. You have to try multiple ideas and see which ones gets the excitement of customers, employees, and you can see that people are legitimately using it and excited by it.

When I started Stockpickr someone once wrote me and said, “please block me from the site. I’m too addicted to it and it’s ruining my life.” That’s when I had a sense that I had a halfway decent idea. And that was one of ten ideas I was trying simultaneously. The rest failed.

So don’t be afraid to test, fail, test, fail, try again, repeat, improve, test,  fail again, and keep improving. The way to keep improving? Keep coming up with ideas for your business and for other new businesses.

As your idea muscle improves, so will your ability to “fail quickly”.  Failing quickly is a better skill than executing quickly.

You may not have a side project going on right now, but you can make money by starting one. I’ll tell you how here. 

J) When do I shut down an idea?

In 2009, I started The Leading Love Site on the Net (140LOVE). It was going to be a dating website where your twitter feed was your profile. Everyone I spoke to say, “that’s a great idea!” I had already raised money and was raising more.

Then, on the day I was going to close the fundraising round I woke up  shaking. I had this vision of myself a year from now explaining to all  of the investors why it wasn’t going to work. I returned all the money. I  was out the money I had spent to create the website.

I can  guess why it was a bad idea (people on dating sites want to be  anonymous, for instance) but I didn’t really know. I just knew I had to  return the money.

When your idea muscle is developed and the  other legs of the daily practice are fully developed (Phyiscal,  Emotional, Spiritual) you’ll have a better idea when you should shut  things down. When you are shutting them down for the right reasons. When  you are “failing quickly” as opposed to self-sabotage or fear of  success or you’re just stupid.

That was the last time I tried  to start a business. Since then I’ve done very well by not starting businesses. Starting businesses is not the only way to make money in  this world. There are many ways.

[ RELATED: The 100 Rules for Being an Entrepreneur ]


K) How do you keep track of your ideas?

I make a list of ideas and then I usually just throw them out.

The whole purpose is to exercise the idea muscle. I know most of the  ideas are bad ideas so I there’s no sense keeping them around.

If one of the ideas is good then I will probably remember it and build  on it for the next day. Sometimes it’s kind of funny when I come across  an old list of ideas to see what I was thinking. Every now and then I  think I find a good idea in my old lists but it’s rare.

And then what do I do with that rare good idea? Probably nothing.

L) Are all of your ideas business ideas?

No. Almost never. It’s hard to come up with over 3000 business ideas a year. I’m lucky if I come up with a few business ideas.

The key is to have fun with it. Else you don’t do it. People avoid things that are not fun.

Here’s some types of lists I make:

  • IDEA SEX. Combine two ideas to come up with a better idea. Don’t forget that idea evolution works much faster than human evolution. You will ALWAYS come up with better ideas after generations of idea sex. This is the DNA of all idea generation.
  • OLD TO NEW: 10 old ideas I can make new. (Dorothy, Wall Street, etc). Similar to idea sex.
  • 10 ridiculous things I would invent (the smart toilet, etc).
  • 10 books I can write (The Choose Yourself Guide to an Alternative Education, etc).
  • 10 business ideas for Google / Amazon / Twitter / you
  • 10 people I can send ideas to
  • 10 podcast ideas I can do. Or videos I can shoot. (“Lunch with  James”, a video podcast where I just have lunch with people over Skype  and we chat).
  • 10 industries I can remove the middleman.
  • 10 Things I Disagree With that everyone else assumes is religion  (college, home ownership, voting, doctors). Or, for any one of those  ideas. 10 ideas why!
  • 10 ways to make old posts of mine and make books out of them
  • 10 ways I can surprise Claudia. (Actually, more like 100 ways. That’s hard work!)
  • 10 items I can put on my “10 list ideas I usually write” list
  • 10 people I want to be friends with and I figure out what the next  steps are to contact them (Azaelia Banks, I’m coming after you! Larry  Page better watch out also.)
  • 10 things I learned yesterday.
  • 10 things I can do differently today. Right down my entire routine  from beginning to end as detailed as possible and change one thing and  make it better.
  • 10 chapters for my next book
  • 10  ways I can save time. For instance, don’t watch TV, drink, have stupid  business calls, don’t play chess during the day, don’t have dinner (I  definitely will not starve), don’t go into the city to meet one person  for coffee,  don’t waste time being angry at that person who did X, Y,  and Z to you, and so on.
  • 10 Things I Learned from X. Where X  is someone I’ve spoke to recently or read a book by recently. I’ve  written posts on this about the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Steve Jobs,  Bukowski, the Dalai Lama, Superman, Freakonomics, etc.
  • Random: 10 Things Women Totally Don’t Know About Men. (that turned into a  list of 100 and Claudia said to me, “uhhh, I don’t think you should  publish this”).
  • Today’s list: 10 More Alternative to College I can Add to my book: “40 Alternatives to College”.
  • 10 Things I’m Interested in Getting Better At (and then 10 ways I can get better at each one).
  • 10 things I was interested in as a kid that might be fun to explore  now. (Like, maybe I can write that “Son of Dr. Strange” comic I’ve  always been planning. And now I need 10 plot ideas).
  • A  problem I have and ten ways I might try and solve it. This has saved me  with the IRS countless times. Unfortunately, the Department of Motor  Vehicles is impervious to my super powers.

This is just a sample. Every day, 10 ideas. The other day, “10 ways I can release more endorphins into my body”. Today is, “10 ways I can help people build their idea machine”. Tomorrow is “10 Ways I can turn my next book into a webinar for Oprah.” The day after that: “10 things I can talk about in my next talk on May 3” (which means, developing an entire standup comedy act from scratch since I have a rule, “if it’s not funny, then a tree fell in the forest and it didn’t make a sound.”)

M) Is the idea muscle the most important part of what you call “The Daily Practice”?

No! They are all EQUAL.

Imagine you’re sitting on a stool. By the way, I only see stools in bars because you have to be drunk to sit on a stool. It’s so uncomfortable. And then invariably, someone falls off a stool and then half the people laugh and half the people say “is he ok?” but everyone crowds around because we smell blood.

So, now you’re on a stool with four legs. If someone pulls away one of the legs you might still balance and the stool stays up but it’s tricky. If someone pulls two legs off, you’re down for the count.

The Daily Practice is to be: Physically, Emotionally, Mentally (the idea muscle), and Spiritually healthy.

If you aren’t physically healthy you won’t come up with ideas. You’ll be coughing and vomiting.

If you are around people who hate you, you won’t come up with ideas.  Because they will be yelling at you while you are trying to think.

And if you aren’t feeling grateful and calm in your life on a regular  basis, then you will be anxious and it will be harder to come up with  ideas.

So all four parts of the Daily Practice work together to come up with great ideas.

N) Do I really do this everyday?

Let’s say you get tired for a day of writing ideas. Try something  different. The key is to keep activating parts of your brain that have  atrophied.

Sometimes if I don’t feel like writing down a list of ten ideas I’ll do something else.

Like I’ll draw ten eyes.

Or I’ll make a collage.

Or I’ll take photographs of the ten most beautiful women I see today.  Or the ten ugliest men (if I take picture of the ten most handsome men  then I might get jealous and that’s a whole other thing I’d have to deal  with).

Or I might come make ten prank calls (well, when I was a kid I did that. I never do that now! Maybe).

O) Is it important to read before writing?

I don’t know. But I do. Here’s what I do:

At any given point I have about 10-20 books on my “to go” list. Books that I can just pop in and continue reading.

Every day I read at least 10% of a non-fiction book that gives me tons  of new ideas, an inspirational book, a fiction book of high-quality  writing, and maybe a book on games (lately I’ve been solving chess  puzzles). And then I start writing.

Right now the inspirational book is “The Untethered Soul”. The non-fiction book is “Antifragile”. The fiction book is “Blind Date” (Kosinski) and the games book is actually my chess app (“Shreder”) which has non-stop puzzles. But this list changes almost every day.

[ RELATED: The 40 Books That Saved My Life ]

P) How long does it take?

It takes at least six months of coming up with ideas every day before you are an “idea machine”.

Then your life will change every six months. I’ve said this before but  my life is completely different than it was six months ago, and six  months before that, and so on. So different there is no way I could’ve  predicted the differences.

Six months ago I had no podcast. Now it’s a big part of my day. Six months before that, “Choose Yourself” had not come out. Six months before that, several I had not yet gone on several board seats that have done well for me. And so on.

Q) Do I give my ideas away for free?

When you come up with ideas for someone else, always give ALL the ideas away for free if you think they are good ideas (remember: six months).

I read recently one person said to give HALF of your ideas away for free and make them pay for the other half.

This is very bad. This guarantees you will only come up with bad ideas. Because you will hoard your ideas. You will develop a SCARCITY COMPLEX  around your ideas.

Ideas are infinite. But once you define your  capacity of good ideas (“half”) then they instantly become finite for  you. Not for anyone else. But just for you, your ideas will be finite.

If you stick to an abundance mentality, and be grateful for the ideas  that are flowing through you, then they will be infinite. Where they  come from, nobody knows. But they will be infinite and lucrative for  you.

So give ideas for free, and then when you meet, give more  ideas. And if someone wants to pay you and your gut feels this is a good  fit, then give even more ideas.

R) I keep coming up with ideas and they keep failing. What do I do?

There’s this “cult of failure” that has popped up recently. That you need to fail to succeed.

This is not true. Failure really sucks. You don’t want to fail. There  is an easy way to solve this. Take the word “fail” out of your  vocabulary.

Everything we do in life is a success. We breathe,  we love, we practice kindness, we deal with other human beings. We  improve. We have experiences. This is magnificent and abundant success.  Just even being able to try new things is something to celebrate every  day. To smile at another person. To play.

Most things I try to  do don’t work out as I planned. But who am I to predict the outcomes of  my preparation. My only job is to prepare.

Everybody,  EVERYBODY, is a poor predictor of outcomes. From the weatherman, to the  stock analyst. But we can all be good at preparation.

And once  I prepare, I show up at the starting line. Then the whistle blows, the  race begins, I try my hardest with the most amount of integrity, and the  results are not up to me.

Then I go back and learn from the  race, I prepare more, I love more, I celebrate more, and I shop up for  the next race. The whistle blows, and eventually good things happen.  Preparation leads to Faith in yourself.

I used to think good  things never happen. I saw my father die without anything good happening  to him. I thought my fate was going to parallel his. But every moment,  this moment while you are reading this, you get to choose abundance,  gratitude, kindness, integrity, “goodness”. Only you get to choose what  is in your universe.

When you don’t choose, you excuse.

S) Is it really worth is to become and idea machine?

Every day I come up with ideas. I haven’t had a business since 2009. And it failed, as mentioned above.

Since then I’ve made more money than I know what to do with because I  come up with ideas for people, for companies, for me, for people who  have no idea who I am, for random anonymous things.

I then get  invited to share my ideas. Sometimes I get paid for them. Sometimes I  give them for free. Sometimes I get more introductions to people and  sometimes I get a chance to advise companies that do well and make me  money. And sometimes I write books.

When you’re an idea  machine, everything you look at breaks down into a collection of ideas,  just like physical objects ultimately breakdown into collections of  particles if your eyes were subatomic microscopes. Your eyes and brains  become sub-idea microscopes that see the ideas that become the building  blocks for everything in society.

See them, build them, change  them, seed them, birth them, love them, live them. Ideas are the dark  matter of the universe. We know it’s there but only those “in the know”  can see them.

What do you do once you become an idea machine?

This is what I don’t know the answer to because you are the master of your life.

Now you have super powers. Now you’re ready to take your unique place  in the world. You will know how to get to the Justice League satellite  that orbits the Earth and solves problems at a moment’s notice.

You will know what to do. I don’t know. Nobody else knows. You’ll do it and the world won’t be the same.

Related Reading: How to Be The LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET in 4 Easy Steps

what is important

  • Olga Gajewska

    It’s been a while since you posted this one, but I still can’t stop thinking about this post. I keep sharing it whenever I can (linkedin, blog, chats…), as I think it’s a life changing concept! Plus, I think it’s the best post here ever.

    Thank you, for sharing it with us all.

  • Kelly Spitzer

    Love it. I’m starting today!

  • Vikram

    A brilliant Article. Has me all pumped up.
    Dear Life. Here I come!

  • lilolme

    Yup. That’s what I thought it meant except I thought it meant Verizon retirees such as my dad.

  • lilolme

    the real world – real people, real customers, real users a la Lean Startup

  • Teresa

    If you’re right, it’s all the more important to come up with ideas NOW (while you still can).

  • Jeff O

    But who came up with the idea for a computer to come up with ideas and be creative? I’m sure it wasn’t a computer.

  • James, this is great, thank you.

    I’m in charge of coming up with 30+ great ideas for blog topics for a non-profit. I realized that writing is not as difficult if the topic was great to begin with. I also have to think of social media posts, and other marketing efforts, and while we have a team of creative people. We would become stale and unoriginal.

    I liked your suggestions because they go beyond “see what everyone else is doing” which while valid, it’s limited.

    I’ve already incorporated some of your tips (one month down five to go) and wanted to leave you a message thanking you that if nothing else it has eased my anxiety of presenting “terrible ideas.”

  • Lucas

    Wow, I connect with this article so much. Really, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

  • Suresh Kumar

    Thank you James for sharing this wonderful post. It was heartwarming to read your post. It was what i was looking for. You have cleared my doubts on this area and i’m now excited to begin on this quest for great ideas using your methods.

  • lalala

    this makes me feel freaking invincible

  • Allen Cook

    sl;idr;wi! I’ll break the code…’somewhat long; I did read; worth it!’ Thanks James. Great post.

  • Thank you. After reading this article I’ve realized I have no problem with generating ideas I have problems with bring them to life. You are writing that everything changes every half of year I need half of year only to do a first step.

  • Hanfeizi

    Soon we’ll all die. Who cares?

    Be an idea machine NOW.

  • James thank you i have ideas as you say and have grown to give them away. it feels hard but if nothing is done with them then it is better that way. I came up with a novel design for a soft top car to put a roof rack on. now every enquiry i give the go ahead for some one to copy.
    it is great to read your article and it inspired me to write ten ideas, heated onesy suit, an app to work out what you are good at, mobile phone that has a bracket to fix to a handlebar, a clothes drier that does not use electricity in the house, a website that is only for part time work, a pen that records your writing, a save money app.
    look forward to your next article.

  • Bharat

    wow… amazing… thank you for this article!

  • Sumit Anand

    Hey, thanks for this, been doing this for nearly a month.
    Just have one query :
    I tend to take a break (sometimes distracted by Social Media) and then get back to it to complete my 10-15 whatever no. of ideas I am able to generate that day?
    Now, Is that ok? OR you strictly suggest that I finish 10+ ideas in the same seating without break?

  • gaurav

    i have lots of business ideas and they all are unique some of them are related to manufacturing sector some related to IT sector ….I really want somebody must start with them
    can u plz tell me how could i earn from them if i am not financial enough to set them

    • gaurav

      my mail id is gauravwadhwa20000

  • bobby j

    I am going to become an idea machine. Thanks James! 10 or more ideas every day!

  • Josh

    I don’t mean to be spammy, but I wanted to put this comment on all of the articles about becoming an idea machine…

    This has been hugely helpful in my life, so first off, thanks James.

    Some days it’s harder to come up with what to make a list about, so I started this blog to help me (and hopefully other people too):

    If anyone needs help getting started or keeping up with the habit – please check it out, and if you have ideas for “idea lists” – please send them to me so I can add them!

  • Talha

    Great Work James,It really helps me alot,Also have a look on 10 unused blog post ideas for making your Blog “Hot:

  • Pranav

    I recently read an article about brain and challenges. The more it is challenged the smart it thinks. I find the proof in your post. I shall have my brain work smart to have good ideas.

  • ali

    Hi James,

    Just got done reading your post – refreshing perspective for someone who has been out of work for 8 months. Though, Im still trying to figure out how this works. While reading this, I tried making a list to improve my job search and it seems like all the nice ideas I jotted down were tried and tested – one I had to think hard about. Is it about coming up with new ways or existing ideas? Also, how does execution of these ideas work? Thanks

    • ali

      not nice ideas, I meant nine ideas

  • dorogoff

    Hi James, thanks for your post, first thought was “too long, didn’t read.”! But, I complete it entirely. I didn’t have any problems with ideas, I just push them into evernote list every day. And I want to share one trick that sometimes help me think up something new. Trick is read something with different language from yours, and when you try to translate it and after interpretation you can found something new.

  • H.E

    SCAMPER is a mnemonic that stands for:
    Put to another use.

  • awesome article james. I printed it and distributed to all the members in my blogging office

  • Maxwell Chiareli

    What would you do with you have an idea that you really feel would work very well, and when you start working on it, someone just release an similar product in the market, would you analyse their product and make yours better, or just give up?

  • joe

    Enjoyed the article and I found it to be really inspiring. Your perspective on things is really interesting and I truly enjoyed the read. I recently started using a great resource that has truly been helpful with exclusive leads,

  • Michael Oden

    You are the man! Keep up the good work!

  • This is one of the most powerful piece I have read in a long time now on ideas. I have what I call a ‘thought bag’ where I write down ideas as they come to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have all these information to utilize or translate them to a more useful state. With this piece, I think I will do things differently henceforth. Thank you, James for this.

  • Szymon Krzemiński

    I have just realised something brilliant. If you don’t know what ideas to think of, think of 10 fields that you can find 10 ideas for. I guess 10^n and you’re unstoppable.

  • Sue Sundstrom

    I love this, thanks James! Very recently discovered your blog…you’re a fascinating writer! I’ve made multiple ’10 ideas each’ lists since reading this yesterday….it’s becoming an obsession already…

  • Mostafa Darwish

    Can we meet ? I think we can change the world How ? We have to organize world problems and project them on a screen as much as there is no matter how many and to let people see with there eyes the problems from out of the box and all people sign savings the world plan even if it will take 1000 years to be solved and after they are solved start to predict more and to prevent before start not to lose hope it has to happen soon better than late so if you have a chance to die and knowing that you grand grand *7 son happy finally .you can start by connecting charity organizations data bases by each other and the people who needs help which eventually 90% of the world who are followers for the luxury in the box ( money ) which is the main reason vibrating problems all around never mind back to our subject .. we will need to start with making database with all poor people all around the world which is something so easy to make with using nowadays marketing and social networking or a simple mobile app inclde name of the poor . Problem category .location contact detail to check back on him to see if solving the full category solved his problem :) even if I am imagining that will not happen for any reason at least you gave the poor guys hope that there is some solution might happen hope to him or to his grand kids or just the feeling or participating in solving it ! From one failure comes a lot of un noticed self relief that’s first time I ever write . Actullay that first day of my new birthday after all my past years i knew it i was so stubborn and now i was on the edge today ! But thank you for your huge mind discovery i want to have the chance to payback by inspiring you with 100000 million stories from where i come from .. hahaha i want to meet you when can we ? sorry for my Grammer mistakes

    • Dustin U.L.C.

      I think we would get along well! I created a platform for change called the United Living Construct. I’m still getting it pieced together, as I am trying to learn to program at the moment to make an even better site, but here is my temporary site so you can see what I mean!

  • Pres

    Hello James, I am struggling with finding topics for ideas. How can I come up with them, where can I find inspiration? Thank you!


    Yes Belsky’s book is killer. Get him on show please. And thanks for doing what you do James.

  • Johan Navarro

    Parcero te pasaste 20 pueblos con este gran articulo, sin duda alguna uno de los mejores que he leido.

  • Inspiring and fresh, a must read for every business person

  • Armando Gómez

    I have social anxiety, and I couldn’t come up with even 1/2 idea in a Cafe. I tried it yesterday. It was more than akward for me.
    That’s one idea to the list of things I should improve this year.

  • I don’t remember how I ended up reading this post, but I think this is your masterpiece James. I always considered myself a creative person, but that’s nothing and it has always been unstructured. Your suggestion will bring my creativity to the next level.

    Thank you so much!

    P.S. Can’t wait to watch Dorothy on Wall Street!

  • jephin joseph

    The article made me realise that how important it is to be a creative person by being an idea machine which is altogether a unique skill and the ways through which it can be achieved is something that is beautifully portrayed by you.I’ll try to use these techniques mentioned and i have this desire to be a better person than who i am and this will certainly help. I admire you, i follow you and I’ve read some of your articles on various media and they are just brilliant. Hope to see you some day in real ! Wish you all the best things in life :)

  • dihard

    How do you actually decide on today’s list topic? Do you usually base it directly on what you were just reading about before starting the exercise? Do you make a list in advance to pick from?

    • Bill Brocius

      This is where I struggle. I can Probably squeeze out 10 ideas each day, but I struggle to come up with a topic for the ideas each day.

  • dihard

    How much time do you give yourself to complete a list? Is the goal to get your brain to spit these out in a minute or two rapid fire with no hesitation and see what comes out or is it better to deliberate a bit for more like 10 minutes so the answers are more usable/fully formed?

  • Chic7

    Ideas are often out there in the logical succession of events, but who will the one to pick them first, as the French expression says : “C’est dans l’air du temps”.

    Ben.Z —

  • James Buechler

    Fabulous post, This Is A Treatise on life.

  • Sathyanand S

    Finally I am there 890+ ideas and counting.
    Thanks James for the inspiration..
    Here are my 10 reasons why I write 10 ideas everyday.

    Here is #7: To prove to myself that I can come up with ideas. I had deep self-confidence issues and still have some. I’m slowly yet steadily winning over the resistance to generate an idea. I told my other day, give me a problem, I’m sure I’ll come up with 10 ideas to solve it. Whether the ideas are great is another question, but my confidence to declare I can a solve a problem is something I’m taking pride in myself.

    Thanks again James for giving me that confidence.

  • Marco

    Every time I read your posts and stories, either here or Quora, you inspire me. Thanks!!!

  • James Buechler

    What a stunning article. I’m going to detail my routine from yesterday and improve it in writing.

  • maduraiweb

    There is a ton of great information in this article.MaduraiWeb I have bookmarked your page so I can come back from time to time. This is wonderful resource for bloggers and small business owners, especially for all of us on a small budget.

  • Guiliana Fabiano

    James, I already AM an idea machine. I have NO PROBLEM coming up with great, marketable ideas. My problem is that I CAN’T STAY AWAKE. How can I take action when I’m sleeping 18+ hours/day? I’m lucky if I manage to eat. I tried to find a business partner, but unless they’re visiting my dreams, we’ll never meet. I rarely leave my house, as there’s no public transport here, so driving is required. That’d be dangerous to both myself and others. I’m open to suggestions, if anyone has any! I’m saving up for a sleep study which may provide some answers, at least.

  • Love365. ph

    Hello guys, You can buy Sex Toys here at our store is located in Makati Ave. In Front of A-venue Mall. The Philippine Leading Sex Toys Store.

  • Mikayla Whitener

    Thanks for this article. I get so excited to put ideas down on paper and can’t wait to see how this simple practice changes my life.

  • Powerful message. Writing down ideas as James suggests has made a huge impact on my ability to “fail fast.” Applying his philosophy taught me to perceive every day as an opportunity to evolve. With this mindset, you can do anything. Thanks, James! :)

    P.S. I happened to catch some typos and grammar stuff in there. I’d be happy to send a list as a freebie since you’ve done so much to help me (indirectly and without knowing it, but nonetheless true). If that sounds helpful, please shoot an email to and I’ll take care of it.

  • Melissa Omolo

    Wow!What a long read… I really did enjoy reading this…. For the longest time I have been hoarding alot of ideas for the sake of financial gain and I ended up being the loser because I have been stuck for so long where I am and now I know what I need to do… I need to let those ideas go away for my own happiness, fulfillment and growth.There are calls I need to make and meetings to make to share those ideas and move on with my life in peace!Thank you James for sharing this….This is just what I needed to see… I don’t wanna die with those ideas…. I wanna die empty.

  • Ana Gutierrez

    oh my god! I feel you just woke me up of a long comatose state! I work for a living doing quite mindless type of tasks, all very repetitive and I have been feeling my brain is losing its sharpness and vitality. I can feel now my brain is trying to come up with ideas about ideas, I am on fire!

  • James, your idea has sprouted! The Russian Instagramers come up with 10 ideas a day for almost a month now here

    Thank you and Claudia!