An Overlooked Method for Producing Great Ideas: Let Them Steep
Ideas, like tea, need time to steep. Beneath the surface of the water, or the surface of your mind, magical things are happening. Unfortunately, all too often people try to generate great ideas with sheer brute intellect. They suppose if they think about it long enough and hard enough, the answer will come. But that's rarely the case.
In James Webb Young's tried, true, and excellent little book A Technique for Producing Ideas, he describes a five step process for creating ideas. Steeping, or digestion in Young's metaphor, is the third step, and one of the most frequently overlooked. You see, some things the subconscious mind can process better than the conscious mind. However, our subconscious is rarely able, if ever, to engage with something while it's still attracting our surface-level attention. So, we need to learn to let things go.
This isn't to say that good ideas appear out of thin air; ideas can only be processed subconsciously after you've done the hard work of research and exhausted the conscious mind by gathering facts and digging frantically. But when you're tired, worn, and ready to call it a day, stop beating your head against the wall. Walk alway. Sleep on it. Do anything to get your mind off the problem. That's when your subconscious will work its magic, and the right idea will come to you when you least expect it.