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Ep. 365 - Practical Ways to Jumpstart Brainstorming

Published 4/5/2017

In today's episode, we discuss some practical ways to get brainstorming jumpstarted.

Today's episode is brought to you by Linode. Linode Provides superfast SSD based Linux servers in the cloud starting at $10 a month. Linode is offering Developer Tea listeners $20 worth of credit if you use the code DEVELOPERTEA2017 at checkout. Head over to spec.fm/linode to learn more about what Linode has to offer to Developer Tea listeners .

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Have you ever sat down at your computer to create something novel, create something brand new, not solve a task or write some code, but create something that hasn't been created before? Perhaps it is through code, but you're actually trying to come up with an idea, and you're staring at your computer screen and you don't really know what the next step is. That's what we're going to talk about in today's episode of Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. Today marks the 360 fifth episode of Developer Tea. And hopefully you know, that means that if you were to go back and start and listen to one episode of Developer Tea, starting today, you would have an entire year of content. If you've never listened to anything on the show, you'd have an entire year of new content to listen to. And then by the end of that year, of course, we will have done three episodes per week once again. So I'm really excited about this landmark, this milestone, I guess you could call it. We've celebrated other milestones when we passed million markers. We're actually coming up on 6 million. We may be at 6 million whenever this episode airs. But a question that I often get about the podcast, not necessarily from listeners of the podcast, but from other podcasters, other content creators. Sometimes I get asked this question and I want to cover it in today's episode because I feel like 365 is such an important milestone for me. And I want to share with you some of the ways that I found to effectively help my brainstorming process. That's kind of what we were talking about in the intro today. The idea that you're going to sit down at a computer in order to create something new. You're not waiting for the idea to strike necessarily, but you're actually intentionally forcing yourself to create something new. Maybe you're not doing it in front of a computer. Maybe you're doing it with a notebook or maybe you're doing it on a walk outside. I'm going to give you some actual practical, very practical ways to kind of jumpstart or ignite that little bit of idea generation process. It seems to be very mysterious, but I'm hoping to take the wind out of the sails on that and make it less mysterious for those of you who actually can benefit from creating something brand new. And the secret is everyone who's listening to the show can benefit from creating something brand new. But I want to take a moment and celebrate the people who listen to this show. 365 episodes. That wouldn't happen if you didn't listen to this show. And there's two obvious reasons why you listening makes such a big difference. The first one is very clear. When you listen, it helps us get sponsors. I want to be very upfront about that. When we have a good listenership to this show, it helps us keep the thing going because it helps pay the bills. And we very intentionally choose sponsors to sponsor this show that we really believe are going to provide value to a large number of our listeners. We don't just take on any sponsor. We really want to make that a real thing, an authentic thing that we believe we're actually providing value to you if you choose to work with one of those sponsors. But the show isn't just about the sponsors. I am personally fueled by your commitment to become a better developer. When I get emails from the people who listen to the show and when I get direct messages and slack or on Twitter, when I see that people are adopting some of the ideas that we talk about on this show, or they are actually discussing some of these ideas in their own groups. When I hear about those things happening, it inspires me to continue pressing the record button to continue making this show. And the reality is when you decide to do something difficult, when you decide to commit to being better, when you decide that you're going to, from the very beginning of development, when you decide that you're going to start developing your ability to focus, when you decide that you want to develop your ability to estimate things better. Those commitments are really deep. They're very personal. They're very real and to the core. So that's why it's so important to me. That's why it's such a big deal to me. When I hear about people who are listening to this show and hearing that it's actually making their lives better in some way or challenging them to become better in some way. So if you are one of those people, if you are a true fan of this show, if you've been listening and you really buy in to what we're talking about here and you really want to have the hard conversations and you really do want to become a better developer. You're against cynicism. You're ready to adopt that next level thinking that we talk about so often on this show. I'd love for you to reach out to me. You can send me an email at developertagmail.com. You can come and join our spec Slack community by going to spec.fm slash slack. You can find me on Twitter at developert. I'd love for you to reach out. Join the conversation. Be a part of developert. The show does not exist in a bubble. You are a part of what this show is. Thank you so much for listening for the past 364 episodes and now 365. I want to take a moment to thank today's sponsor. Linode has been with us for a long time now. They are an incredible sponsor. They are helping Developer Tea do what we do each and every week three times a week. They also provide an incredible product. They're providing you basically double the amount of RAM that other similar services provide at the same price tiers. I have a challenge for you. If you don't have a personal website, I want this to be the year that you set up your personal website. It doesn't really matter to me if you do a static website built with something like Jekyll or you go and build a WordPress site or maybe you want to use some off the wall language, something that's unusual. Here's the awesome thing about Linode. Pretty much anything you can imagine you can do on a Linux server and therefore you can do it on a Linode server. You get root access. These things are built on Intel E5 processors, a 40 gigabit internal network. So if you spend up multiple servers to talk to each other, it's going to be super fast communication between those servers. They also are built on top of SSD storage. There's pretty much no concern about speed and the entry level price. This is an incredible entry level price. For five bucks a month, you can get a gigabit of RAM. What that really means is that if you don't have a personal site and you haven't set one up because you think it's too expensive, then you are being too cheap. $5 a month is incredibly cheap and a gigabit of RAM is plenty to run a static site. It's plenty to run pretty much anything you can build. If you can't make it working at gigabit of RAM, then you probably need to practice anyway. So go and check out Linode. Spec.fm slash Linode. And if this incredibly affordable entry level plan isn't enough to get you started, get you rolling in this direction. Linode is also offering you $20 just for being a Developer Tealistener. Use the code Developer Tea2017 that's Developer Tea 2017 at checkout for $20 worth of credit. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring the 365th episode of Developer Tea. So I want to jump into my practical advice for you. We've done a lot of administrative stuff in this episode and hopefully I've given you good challenges so far. And now I want to give you some very basic practical advice for brainstorming, creating brand new ideas. And there's two things that I want to teach you today, two practical things to help with your brainstorming that I'm going to teach you today. The first thing is create a rhythm. Hopefully this is a common theme that you're noticing in a lot of my episodes. One of the most important things you can do, whether you're brainstorming or doing anything else, is create a habit, create a rhythm. This means make it a part of your normal, make it a part of how you behave. If you try to brainstorm just on a whim, just like anything else that you don't do regularly, you're probably going to be bad at it. If you think back to assuming that you know how to ride a bike. If you think back to when you were learning to ride a bike, it's likely that you fell over and over and over and over. And what would have happened if you had stopped trying to ride a bike after the first time you fell? Well, you've heard all this stuff before, right? It takes failure to learn. It takes a lot of failure to get better at something. But if you don't create a rhythm, if you don't create a constant try and try and try. If you don't create some way of letting your brain know, hey, this is coming. You can expect this to happen. If you don't create that, then you're going to stay basically falling off the bike all the time. Not only that, but a rhythm is necessary to build a habit. So you need to create a rhythm around your brainstorming. Especially if you find a particular thing that you can do to trigger this idea, to let your brain know it's time to start brainstorming. It's time to start coming up with an idea. Now, we talked about the importance of adding variability in your day, right? Because our brains get used to our habits and then they kind of shut down because they're taking shortcuts, right? Our brains are really good at taking shortcuts. They're really good at ignoring most of the stuff around us. So it's important that you add variability into your day, but alongside that variability, you need to create, think of it as kind of a ritual, right? You can create a ritual. It's a consistent habit, a consistent way of preparing yourself to do this work. For example, for me, about 90%, maybe even 95% of the episodes that I record of Developer Tea, they are recorded after doing some kind of exercise and typically they're recorded later in the day, usually in the afternoon, sometimes in the evenings, sometimes even late at night. I tell you this, not because I think you should copy my exact procedure. I tell you this, not because I think you should set up your day exactly the way that I've set up mine. My day, my schedule may work for you and it may be totally irrelevant to you. Some people do very well doing this kind of work very early in the morning. In fact, there's quite a bit of research that says that if you prioritize this kind of work to the early part of the day, that you're more likely to be successful, you're more likely to produce higher quality work and you're more likely to get the most important things done. If you're just now starting out, my recommendation would actually be to do exactly the opposite of what I've found works for me and that is to do the most important things earlier in the day, do this type of work earlier in the day and give yourself the decision-making power that is necessary to fuel this kind of stuff. Regardless of the actual ritual that you choose, regardless of whatever it is that you choose to do to prepare your brain for this creation process, the most important piece of this is that you make it consistent, that you do it on a regular basis. When I say consistent, I almost mean every day, even better if you can make it every day, but do it more days than not. That's kind of a good definition of regular to me. Do it more days than not. So that means four out of seven days, you should be performing the same ritual. If you expect yourself to be able to develop a habit and you're not doing whatever that habit is telling you to do, whatever the habit is that you're trying to develop, you're not doing that thing, you're not performing that ritual more days than not than you're likely to fail. You're likely to fail at developing that habit. Now, here's the really cool thing about this. If you develop your ritual, you get to make it what you want it to be. See this as an opportunity to enjoy your ritual. See it as an opportunity to design something that you enjoy doing. See it as an opportunity rather than as an obligation. This is so important because you're going to more readily do the thing that you enjoy doing. If you know like me that I feel good after I exercise, then I'm more motivated to go and exercise. That's the first practical tip, create some sort of ritual, some sort of rhythm that you can follow on a regular basis that surrounds your brainstorming process, that surrounds your creation process. That's the first thing I wanted to teach you today. The second thing I want to teach you today is to use a fluent system, use a fluent system to inform the not fluent system. I actually had to Google this, the word for not fluent is actually un-fluent, even though it feels kind of weird to say that. Use a fluent system to inform an un-fluent system. What does this mean? Well, when we sit down to brainstorm, when we sit down to create something out of nothing to actually generate new ideas, probably for most of you, this is going to be writing or maybe even recording a podcast. When we sit down to generate new content, new ideas, we're staring at a blank screen and that first step is totally unknown. The first step, a lot of times we are not really sure how to take that first step. In most of the time, the first step is generated by some kind of inspiration. I've said this on the show before, a lot of the inspiration for this show, for example, happens earlier in the day, perhaps one of the reasons why the later day episodes actually are successful for me is because something happened that day that I feel like is worthwhile to talk about on the show. The reality is we don't always have some kind of inspiration to give us the first step. We don't always necessarily have that raw material to work from. It's important to keep that in your life, keep looking for that inspiration. It's why reading quotes and reading books and watching media and paying attention to the world around you, that can be so, so critical for you as a producer, for you as a creator, for you as a developer, as a freelance developer, a creative person. All of that raw material can act as inspiration. What do you do when you sit down to create? Nothing has happened to inspire that creation or nothing has happened to give you a new and novel idea. It may be easy to give up at that point, right? It may be easy to quite simply walk away and call it writer's block or whatever it is that we need to say to ourselves, to convince ourselves that we don't have to push through that difficulty. But I'm going to teach you a way of pushing through that difficulty even when you have no inspiration. I want you to think about the ABCs. All of you, immediately, hopefully, immediately thought of some sort of device that you used to learn the ABCs, perhaps a song. The ABCs for you and for me is a fluent system. I know for a fact that I can spout off the ABCs. So you're very first step in a brainstorming session. If you have some kind of idea of your direction is to write out the ABCs and then write something for each of those letters. This may seem like it's just a trick. It may seem cheesy or it may seem like it's a creative writing exercise. But the reality of the situation is that if you have no way of getting yourself jump started, then anything is better than nothing. Take a fluent system that you have in your mind. Take a fluent thing, something that you already know you can write about. Another example of a fluent system, explain something that happened to you recently. Explain a memory or explain a memory that you have from a long time ago. What you'll find, perhaps incredibly, is that the brainstorming power you have when you start with something fluent is going to spill over into the thing that you are unfluant in. Whatever it is that you're trying to inspire, once you start thinking in your fluency, a lot of the time you're going to carry that fluency over into the thing that you're unfluant in. So take from the things that are already in your brain. Take from your memories. Take from the systems that you know. Take from the languages that you know. Take from the platforms that you're already familiar with. Start doing research. These are practical ways to...it's not about inspiration. These are practical ways to jump start the fluency in your brain. Thank you so much for listening to this 365th episode of Developer Tea. I'm so excited that you've joined me in a constant battle to become a better developer and really to become a better person. Thank you so much. I hope you will subscribe to the show if you don't want to miss out on future episodes. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Linode. Remember, I'm challenging you. If you don't have a personal site, a personal website, this is the year to start one. Even if you just put your name and your picture on it, go ahead and get rolling on those personal sites. If you make a price a factor, well, really you're just investing nothing into your career because it takes $5 a month to get a Linode server. Not a bad server either. We're talking about a gigabyte of RAM with root access to a Linode server. Go and check it out. Specially on FEMS-LASH. Linode, don't forget the Special Code Developer Tea. 2017 at checkout if you want $20 worth of credit. Thanks again for listening to today's episode and until next time, enjoy your tea.