James Clear

James Clear quotes on finding ideas

Author of the #1 NYT bestseller Atomic Habits. I write about building better habits.

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For the last week, I have started each day by writing “What do I want?” at the top of a blank page. It’s surprising how useful it is to keep asking yourself this question. Each time, my answers get more precise. Once I know what I want, I translate the answer into action steps.


In a world where information is abundant and easy to access, the real advantage is knowing where to focus.


Vision is the bottleneck of talent. Most talent is wasted because people do not clearly know what they want. It’s not a lack of effort, but a lack of direction. There are many capable people in the world, but relatively few that focus on what matters.


Anytime you think your idea is unique, you just haven't read widely enough.


How to see opportunities others miss: 1) Study a totally different field, then return to the original problem. Apply insights from other domains. 2) Invert the problem. Try to achieve the opposite. 3) Find ways to engage with hyper-creative people. Their thinking will rub off.


Innovators are T-shaped. They are experts in a narrow field. But they also have a big intellectual toolbox, which offers new entry points and lines of attack for solving problems. Read widely. As the saying goes, "Know something about everything and everything about something."


Creative ideas happen when you stop thinking about what others will think.


Before you dream about the view from the summit, ask yourself if you're willing to keep your head down, focus on the path, and spend your life walking up the side of a very big hill. It takes years of walking to earn a minute at the top.


“The four idea principles are: (1) Find a human need, an unsolved problem (2) Master all of the essentials of the problem (3) Give a new “twist” to an old principle (4) Believe in your idea—and act!” —Bruce Lee


How to generate great ideas as a team: 1) Brainstorm privately. Any idea goes. Avoids groupthink. 2) Compile ideas, but hide the sources. Avoids "highest paid person" winning. 3) Discuss as a group to find the best answer. 4) Reveal the winner so the right person gets credit.


One form of innovation is originality. Another form is synthesis. People often focus so much on being original that they overlook the value of synthesizing ideas from different sources. There's a lot of value in connecting previously unconnected ideas.


Giving your best effort does not mean simply working harder at what you were already doing. It can mean that, but it often means searching harder for a better way to do things. Giving your best effort involves execution and strategy.


It is crucial to keep an open mind—particularly when you are young. The world is big and the space of possible approaches is vast. It is unlikely the first idea you come across is also the optimal idea. The most important prison to avoid is that of a narrow mind.


As a general rule: Broad ideas influence more people. Specific ideas influence people more.


When you copy best practices, you also copy unseen errors.


Conversation is usually a first draft of your thoughts. If true, we should be more gracious with people in conversation. In writing, we actively encourage people to ignore quality and explore ideas in the first draft. In conversation, if people make one misstep, we blast them.


I’m usually terrified people will hate my writing. My only saving grace is how I direct that fear. I use it to motivate me to find better ideas and share more useful examples rather than allowing it to prevent me from sharing at all. Fear is the gas pedal, not the brake.


All information is “new” the first time you hear it. When you come across an idea and think, “Isn’t that obvious?”... it just means you learned it earlier in life. The curse of knowledge is that you underestimate how powerful “obvious” ideas can be to anyone for whom it is new.


Each day creates surface area for new opportunities. The longer you live, the more ideas, people, and options you encounter. Without active pruning, the natural path of any to-do list is to grow. As a result, a key skill in life is deciding what shouldn’t be done.


The qualities of the most powerful ideas in history: (1) They align with reality and the truth of how the world actually works. (2) They have broad applicability and can be used in a wide range of circumstances. (3) They are predictive and not just explanatory.


First, search widely. Then, eliminate ruthlessly. Finally, work obsessively on what remains.


For 99% of entrepreneurs, I think a good filter for business ideas is: 1) Is someone already doing this? 2) Only do it if the answer is yes. So much time is wasted building "something new" in markets that don't exist. Instead, find new ways to serve old markets.


For ideas to truly stick, we must make contact with them repeatedly.


The result of creativity and innovation is new ideas, but the cause of creativity and innovation is more ideas. The person with a bigger intellectual toolbox has more entry points and additional lines of attack to solve problems. Read widely. Explore broadly. Then apply.

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