You may have noticed that most creative strategies are designed to generate vast quantities of ideas. This is a component of divergent thinking. Developing divergent thinking skills helps increase your degree of flexibility and fluency with regard to ideation. During ideation, getting past the first few ideas is crucial if you want creative ideas. This is because the first few solutions to come to mind do so because they are closely associated or obvious. I call these ideas “low hanging fruit.” For more innovative ideas, you’ll have to push further. But what’s the optimum number of ideas?
I’ve found 100 to be the magic number of creativity. Each time I ask students to create lists of ideas, the best ones are usually about two-thirds the way down whatever list they make. So for a list of ten, numbers 6 and 7 are usually pretty good. Likewise, in a list of fifty ideas the best ones are generally between 30 and 35. It’s not an exact science, but the trend stands fairly consistent. But after 100 a law of diminishing returns sets in, and the ideas don’t usually get better after that. Think about it for a second, if you only generate ten ideas, you are missing out on idea #34 which statistically, at least in my experience, will probably be better.
If you have a coin collection, think of how many valuable coins you gain by continuing to add coins to the collection. When you had just a few, probably none of them were that unique. It takes a large collection of coins to increase the probability of having valuable coins. So in a sense, when generating ideas, quality is a probabilistic function of quantity. Therefore, the next time you come up with ideas don’t stop until you get to 100. Tom Monahan, author of The Do It Yourself Lobotomy, calls this 100MPH Thinking. Click here for more creativity tools.