Ep 70, Ideas Fuel Innovation: Why Your First Ideas Aren’t Always the Best | Summary and Q&A

October 25, 2022
Stanford GSB Podcasts
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Ep 70, Ideas Fuel Innovation: Why Your First Ideas Aren’t Always the Best

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In this podcast episode, Matt Abrahams talks with Jeremy Adley, the director of Executive Education at Stanford Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. Jeremy shares his perspective on innovation in business and emphasizes the importance of generating ideas. He discusses the cognitive tendency to fixate on the first solution that comes to mind and explains the concept of the Einstellung effect. Jeremy also introduces the idea of the daily idea quota and how it helps retrain the brain to think beyond the initial solution. He highlights the significance of shifting orientation and generating multiple ideas instead of seeking the single right answer. Jeremy further discusses the value of diverse inputs and shares techniques such as Wonder Wanders and changing collaborators to strengthen the muscle of idea generation. The conversation concludes with insights on effective communication, storytelling, and the impact of emotion in conveying creative ideas.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does the Einstellung effect hinder breakthrough opportunities?

The Einstellung effect, also known as the anti-Einstein effect, prevents us from embracing breakthrough opportunities. It causes us to fixate on the first solution that comes to mind and hinders our ability to see better solutions. Research has shown that when we think of a solution to a problem, we stop considering other solutions and become incapable of recognizing superior alternatives. This cognitive tendency limits our ability to generate truly innovative ideas.

Q: What is the difference between being an ideas guy and an idea guy?

Being an ideas guy means embracing new things and enjoying the novelty of ideas. However, being an idea guy goes deeper and refers to the cognitive truth that every individual, including myself, is prone to the Einstellung effect. The human brain has a natural inclination to fixate on the first solution that comes to mind. So when someone calls themselves an ideas guy, it's important to differentiate between the love for new things and the cognitive tendency to fixate on the initial idea.

Q: How does the creative cliff illusion challenge the perception of declining creativity?

The creative cliff illusion refers to the misconception that creativity declines over time. However, research shows that creativity does not decline significantly, and in some cases, it even increases over time. The perception of a creative decline is an illusion because people expect it to happen. Those who believe they will continue to have good ideas experience a creative ramp instead of a decline. This highlights the importance of maintaining a mindset that expects to generate good ideas continuously.

Q: How can individuals shift their mindset to generate more ideas?

Shifting mindset involves changing the orientation from seeking the right answer to generating as many ideas as possible. The tendency to fixate on finding the single right answer is a cognitive trap in most business and life problems. By adopting a goal of generating multiple ideas, individuals can interrupt the cognitive tendency to fixate on the first idea that comes to mind. This shift in goalposts helps overcome the Einstellung effect and encourages thinking beyond the usual consideration set. Adopting a daily idea quota practice, where one aims to articulate multiple ideas for a given problem, helps retrain the brain to overcome the fixation on the initial solution.

Q: What are some additional practices for strengthening the muscle of idea generation?

Apart from the daily idea quota, two practices that can enhance idea generation are being thoughtful about inputs and changing collaborators. Paying attention to the inputs that shape our thinking is crucial, as they drive the outputs of our ideas. By seeking new and diverse inputs, individuals can increase the variability of their output. Techniques such as Wonder Wanders, where one takes a problem and walks around, observing different stimuli and imagining how they could be applied to the problem, helps generate new connections and ideas. Additionally, changing collaborators introduces fresh perspectives and diverse thinking, expanding the pool of ideas and promoting innovative thinking.

Q: How does the use of analogies and mash-ups contribute to creative idea generation?

Analogies and mash-ups can greatly enhance creative idea generation. The principle of apparently unrelated frames of reference colliding can lead to breakthrough results. When seeking analogies, it's important to think beyond superficial characteristics and focus on the deeper traits related to the problem at hand. The more distant and unexpected the analogy, the more creative the ideas tend to be. By combining two unrelated concepts or domains through a mash-up, new and innovative ideas can emerge. For example, looking at how a Formula One pit crew operates can offer insights into streamlining efficiency in an emergency room. Analogies and mash-ups challenge conventional thinking and facilitate the generation of novel and effective solutions.

Q: How can individuals convince others who are resistant to creative ideas?

The environment and context play a significant role in the success of introducing creative ideas. Inaction is often rewarded in many organizations, while innovative organizations emphasize the importance of taking action and avoiding inertia. Leaders who drive innovation establish ownership and accountability at the end of a meeting by specifying the data needed and who will acquire it before the next meeting. By valuing action and new information, they overcome resistance and foster a culture that embraces new ideas. However, it's important to acknowledge that the environment can limit success, and sometimes it may be necessary to accept the constraints and adapt accordingly.

Q: What advice does Jeremy have for better communication of creative ideas?

Jeremy emphasizes the importance of energy transfer in communication. To effectively communicate creative ideas, it is essential to tap into your own authentic motivation and possess genuine enthusiasm for the topic. By genuinely caring about the ideas and conveying the emotional impact they can have, communicators can transfer that energy and engage their audience. Starting with the emotional reason for the idea, rather than focusing solely on the technology or novelty, can help rally engagement and foster connection with the listeners.

Q: Which lesson from the Masters of Creativity web series does Jeremy find most fascinating?

Jeremy highlights the work of Laide Coats, a professor at the University of Virginia, who studied the effectiveness of subtraction in problem-solving and innovation. He found that many times, the most elegant solution involves removing something rather than adding to it. Adding is a common tendency when attempting to make improvements, but Coats' research emphasized the value of subtraction. This insight has significant implications for innovation efforts and encourages individuals to consider alternative approaches that involve removing unnecessary elements.

Q: What is the best communication advice Jeremy ever received in a few words?

"Show me your soul." Jeremy admires the creative director of the D School, Scott Doorley, who emphasized the importance of soulful work. The phrase represents the idea of authentic care and passion in communication. Showing genuine emotion and conveying a sense of care can create an incomparable energy that resonates with the audience.

Q: Who is a communicator that Jeremy admires and why?

Jeremy's father is a communicator whom he greatly admires. As a preacher, his father had a masterful way of keeping the audience engaged and energized. Jeremy learned storytelling techniques from his father and appreciated how he could captivate listeners through the structure and delivery of his stories.

Q: What are the first three ingredients in a successful communication recipe?

The three ingredients that play a crucial role in a successful communication recipe are what, when, and why. The communicator needs to clearly define what needs to change or be accomplished, establish the timeline for when it needs to happen, and communicate the reason behind the desired change. By addressing these three aspects, communicators can effectively convey their message and inspire action or behavioral change.


Innovation requires generating ideas, and the tendency to fixate on the first solution can hinder breakthrough opportunities. Shifting the mindset from seeking the right answer to generating multiple ideas is crucial. Emphasizing the daily idea quota practice and thinking beyond the initial solution helps overcome the Einstellung effect and builds the capacity for creative thinking. Diverse inputs and techniques like Wonder Wanders and changing collaborators enhance idea generation by introducing new perspectives and connections. Leveraging analogies and mash-ups facilitates the generation of breakthrough ideas. Effective communication involves transferring energy and tapping into authentic motivation. Emphasizing the emotional reason for the idea and conveying care can engage the audience and inspire action. Finally, successful communication recipes involve defining what needs to change, establishing the timeline, and communicating the reason behind the desired change.

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