How do you find ideas? Keep learning.

learning by Anne Davis 773, on Flickr

learning by Anne Davis 773, on Flickr

When I was in college studying to be a teacher (that lasted a year), the cliché phrase everyone batted around was “be a lifelong learner.”

Passion for knowledge is what makes you a great teacher, but being teachable comes from self-awareness and the humility to grow as a person. They’re not necessarily correlated.

Stagnant water, after a period of time, begins to attract bugs and decay. So it’s no wonder that when we stop learning, we stop finding ideas. They hide from us in the depths of the shadows, like a horrible game of cat and mouse.

Historically, where do ideas come from? (You should totally watch this video from Steven Johnson.) Most often through cross-pollination and/or collaboration.

“Allowing yourself to cross-pollinate will make your ideas stronger.  And it gets you out of the tired ‘same old’ marketing all of your competitors are doing.” Sonia Simone of CopyBlogger in “Five Marketing Lessons You Can Learn from a Weird ‘Real World’ Business

Don’t stop learning.

“I’m not an expert and I aspire never to be one. As Frank Lloyd Wright rightly put it, “An expert is a man who has stopped thinking because ‘he knows.’”. Brain Pickings began as my record of what I was learning, and it remains a record of what I continue to learn – the writing is just the vehicle for recording, for making sense.”  Maria Popova as interviewed by Copyblogger

For most people this means reading. My attention span likes 300-500 word blogs and whatever books I do read are non-fiction, but it’s rare. If you’re like me, you need other ways to learn that don’t require a library card.


In this day and age, there are hundreds of documentaries to watch on PBS, The Learning Channel, The History Channel, Discovery, and the lot. Stream a video from Netflix. Personally, I love the Ken Burns documentaries. He has a way of using sound – both in his placement of music and direction of the narration – that seems to enrapture me.  My favorite of his documentaries is Lewis & Clark, closely followed by The Brooklyn Bridge. Challenge yourself to learn something new.


Many colleges have classes for alumni or those you can audit. There are thousands of podcasts, both video and audio, to stimulate any area of curiosity you can imagine. Look up a TED Talk. They’re a low-level commitment since most of them are 3-20 minutes long. My three favorite talks are “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” by Amy J. Cuddy, and “The 5 C’s of Connection” by Bobby Umar. But there are great ones about the oceans, how to tie your shoes, robots, and anything else you can dream of.


A rose at the Sherman Library & Gardens 10/19/13

A rose at the Sherman Library & Gardens 10/19/13

Take a day trip to an aquarium, museum, library, zoo, or botanical park. There are so many of these places near us and many of them have low entrance fees. Take a tour, read the signs, take notes and photos. Enjoy being out in nature or looking at art. This stimulates your brain in different ways which you may not be conscious of at the time.

“In other words, outside the hubbub of the city, their brains started to rest and reset.” Ben Shiller

The Mr. and I recently went to Sherman Library & Gardens, just two towns north of us. The entrance fee is only $3 a person and they have a variety of gardens to enjoy including a rose garden, shade garden, tropical area with orchids and a koi pond, and a sun garden with a turtle pond. It was nice to stroll and sit and take photos and enjoy each other’s company.


If you’re a vocabulary geek, do the Times Crossword. If numbers are your thing, do Sudoku. The more you challenge yourself, the more neural pathways you create. Essentially, the more you learn, the more you can learn. I do word searches and play Scrabble with my husband (he beats me by 200 point margins every game).


The truly curious mind never stops asking questions. Ask your friends what they’re reading, doing, visiting. Let them tell you. Don’t worry about them using up “your time” in the conversation. Spend time with mentors or colleagues brainstorming with them to solve their problems. Carol Stephen and I brainstorm on Twitter (or Pinterest or Facebook) a lot! It’s actually why I resurrected this post from the draft folder.

To What End?

The result will be, if you are earnest in your pursuit, that you will be able to think with a different perspective. This will make you a better writer, a more interesting person, and, quite possibly, give you the edge in social circles both offline and on.



  1. Carol Stephen on November 20, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Wow. This might be my new favorite blogpost of yours. Who knew that finding ideas could be so interesting (and not at all obvious!). The video from Steven Johnson was fantastic (and apparently he has a book about ideas, too)! I love the cross-pollination of coffeeshop talks and being out in nature. For me, those work the best.

    And you, my friend, are on a roll! Thank you for this wonderful piece of writing.

  2. Bridget Willard on November 20, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Thank you so much Carol (and for your brainstorming and encouragement).
    This post is more about personal growth and development and less about social media per se so I wasn’t sure it was a good fit.

    Having time to deeply think is good. We always think of downtimes in writing as a bad thing or a block, but maybe we’re still gathering ideas.

    As always, thank you for taking the time to read and comment; I appreciate that. It’s rare these days.

  3. Skinnygrlluvs2eat on November 20, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Yes! So important to ALWAYS be learning. I do crosswords, play word games & drive people crazy with my questions! Do need to add some museums in the mix 🙂 My Mother had Alzheimer’s, as did her Mother (my Grandmother), so I’m acutely aware of how important it is to keep the brain sharp.

  4. Bridget Willard on November 20, 2013 at 10:09 am

    That is exactly why my husband (his dad had Alzheimer’s) plays solitaire, Scrabble, and Majong.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment, Tracy. I really appreciate it.

  5. Skinnygrlluvs2eat on November 20, 2013 at 10:10 am

    You are welcome! Again, great post!

  6. Carol Stephen (@Carol_Stephen) on November 20, 2013 at 11:40 am

    You’re welcome for the brainstorming (it goes both ways!). Bloggers need to tap into those ideas, too.
    Downtime is crucial for writers. And introverts. 🙂
    I love love love your writing! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Terri Davis on November 20, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I enjoyed reading this post! I am wary of any one who calls themselves an “expert” and loved the quote. We are always learning something new!

  8. ruby on November 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Great post Bridget! I get it from my library, from peeps I follow and from research. Also, I have tucked away articles in my secret board on Pinterest and folder in as reference for future articles.

  9. Bridget Willard on November 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you so much for stopping by, taking the time to read, and commenting. I appreciate it.

  10. Bridget Willard on November 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Pinterest is a great place to bookmark articles to come back to.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  11. Music and Sound Therapy in South Africa on January 24, 2020 at 2:09 am

    Get stress diagnosis, Music and Sound Therapy in South Africa based on the psychoacoustic science with scientifically proven connection between body and mind. The combination of sound, mind-body techniques and stress management programs create a healing environment.