how to develop and generate new ideas

It’s very popular. Probably one of the most popular theories of all time.

The split brain theory states that the left hemisphere of your brain brain is logical, analytical and boring. It associates with vocal intelligence and gets you through life acceptably. Left hemisphere dominated people do well at school but possess restricted creativity.

The right hemisphere is creative, imaginative and disorganized. It harbors non-vocal intelligence and is not given enough prominence. Right-hemisphere dominated people often feel guilty about how they think, and are generally labeled as ‘learning-disabled’.

Think of iconic personalities.

Edison’s teacher said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Ludvig van Beethoven’s music teacher told his parents he was “too stupid to be a music composer”. Einstein’s teachers thought he was mentally handicapped because he couldn’t read until he was seven.

But did you know that Einstein actually had amazing grades in school? From age six, he stood first in his class.

If we dig deeper, we will find that most inventors who were considered stupid by their teachers (according to the internet), were actually pretty smart. Stories about their perceived dumbness were probably conjured by bad students.

The split-brain theory was the work of Professor Roger Sperry. It won him the Nobel Prize in 1981. This theory spread fast through the corporate world, because it offered a plausible explanation about why some people could come up with new ideas easily while others struggled. Executives in creative fields started demanding toys, beanbags and game rooms to fuel their right brain. Their cavalier attitude was accepted as part of their creative eccentricity.

Organizations started conducting meetings which people were told to switch the left brain off.

But can we switch a side of our brain off? Is creativity really a result of right-hemisphere thinking?

A Deeper Understanding of The Mind

In 1998, Brenda Milner, Larry Squire and Eric Kandel published an article, proposing a theory called ‘intelligent model’. It provided a more accurate view of creativity. Since then, Sperry’s two-sided brain theory has been junked by neurologists in favor of this model.

how ideas are generated in the brain

In the intelligent model, analysis and intuition work together in all thought modes. No left-brain, right-brain; just the whole brain. Studies prove that we use both sides of our brain at all times.

In Intelligent Memory: Improve the Memory That Makes You Smarter, authors Dr. Barry Gordon and Lisa Berger explained the whole brain concept. It is summarized below.

From when you are born, your brain absorbs things, breaks them down, and puts them on shelves. As new information flows in, your brain runs an internal search to see whether it fits with information stored before. When it finds a match, the previous memories come off the shelf, combine with the new one(s), and a thought is born.

The breaking down and storing process is analysis. The searching and combining is intuition. Both are necessary for all kinds of thought and idea generation.

Even a mathematical calculation requires intuition. We use it to recall the symbols and formulae previously learned, and apply them to the problem.

Even in a familiar situation, intelligent memory combines analysis and intuition as learning and recall.

Familiar situations are not challenging. Working creatively on them… that’s a challenge. Developing new ideas… that’s opening a whole new can of worms.

What Stifles Creativity?

What stifles our creativity? Why do most of us suffer while working with new ideas? Why can’t we think outside the proverbial box? Two reasons.

One reason is our desire to create something from scratch.

creativity and generating ideas quotes

Most of us pressurize our brain to think of something which has never been thought before. Today, chances of that are as bleak as spotting a UFO. Truly creative people use ideas from other avenues to inspire their own thinking.

The second reason is our subconscious obsession with neatness.

You see, ideas are not formed in linear and neat patterns. Like the roadways and waterways in a city, they are interconnected. Yet, when you work on an outline which is still vague, the brain focuses on neatness. Then all hell breaks loose.

Let’s say you start with point 1 in an outline. After twenty minutes of brain numbness, you eventually move to point 2, and so on. You insert sub points (a,b,c) in each main point. Then you realize that point 3b would be better as point 2c. So you draw an arrow. This happens a few more times.

Now your outline is getting messy. Your mind is forcing you to keep it clean, but your imagination is trying to express itself. You daydream and doodle. This makes your outline messier. Eventually, you crumple the paper (or wipe the whiteboard) and start again.

Outlining is useful when you have a fair idea of the end goal. But what about times when you want to do something fluid? What about when you don’t know where you might end up?

Mind Mapping

Enter mind mapping. Originated by Tony Buzan, this technique deploys the whole brain for generating and organizing ideas.

Do words or predefined outlines drive your mind? Or do impressions, keywords and images swim through it, sometimes associating themselves with each other? It’s the latter.

Mind mapping continues this natural thinking process on paper. Below is my first ever mind map. It is a pictorial representation of my to-do list.

generating new ideas through mind mapping

Here are five steps suggested by Michael J. Gelb, to create a visual mind map.

  1. Begin your mind map with a symbol or picture representing your topic. Starting at the center opens your mind to a complete three hundred sixty degrees of association. Pictures and symbols are easier to remember than words. They enhance your ability to think creatively on a subject.
  2. Write down keywords. Keywords are information-rich ‘nuggets’ of recall and association. Write just one keyword for each point. This frees your brain to make numerous creative connections. It also disciplines you to focus on the most appropriate keyword, refining your thought precision and minimizing clutter.
  3. Connect the keywords with lines originating from your central image. By linking words with lines (‘branches’), you will clearly display how one keyword links to the central idea or to another.
  4. Draw smaller nodes to elaborate on each keyword if necessary. You can draw dendrites which hold concise text to elaborate on the keyword.
  5. Use colors, pictures, dimension, and codes for greater association and emphasis.

Below is a more refined visual mind map. It presents my thinking for a recent Facebook Live video. Notice the use of colors to highlight the emphasis to be placed on more points, and how they are connected with each other (sorry for the low visibility).


My mind maps are still far from sophisticated. But I’m working on them. I also will start using thinner markers to make the diagrams clear. They are helping me bring together seemingly unconnected ideas and develop a balanced brain.

How You Can Generate Ideas

We have compromised deep thinking for feeling more productive today. We just want to scrape the surface so that we can get more done. But to unearth a good idea, you have to boil the ocean. That is when you can develop ‘flashes of insight’.

It’s highly unlikely that you will develop creativity (or the ability to generate ideas) just by cultivating a hobby. According to William Duggan, “two steps precede the flash: “examples from history,” when you explicitly study what others have done before you, and “presence of mind,” when you clear your brain of all expectations of solutions. In a clear mind, selected examples from history combine as insight. The last step is resolution, when the flash gives you the will to act on the idea despite the obstacles you face.”

Move from the split-brained theory to the whole brain theory. Instead of making one hemisphere work, get them both to work cohesively. This habit will give you a distinct advantage over others. The ability to generate new ideas consistently will make you indispensable.

Creativity uplifts your mood. It helps you discover the beauty of lesser noticed aspects of life. It is an immensely satisfying feeling. So get started with visual mind maps and watch your intelligence surge.

Good luck.


Vishal Kataria

    COMMENTS (9)

  1. Nabanita Dhar


    This is such an interesting article. I had heard about the left brain and right brain theory. But that we use both together many a time is something new. I actually have to read this post again. You must have done quite a lot of research for this no? I always go back learning something new from you. Thank You. Now off to read it again.


  2. Shilpa Gupte


    I liked the way you described how our brain functions. I read a long time ago how creative people use the right side of their brains, which I so agree with, because the left side of my brain is often under -utilised! I try and put it to use, but often fail miserably. I guess I need to work on the mind-mapping thing to get my entire brain in a good working condition!
    The research you do for your posts is commendable, Vishal. As I told you in one of your earlier posts- your writing speaks millions about the efforts you put into selecting every word and thought to bring out an awesome post!


    • Vishal


      Thanks Shilpa. The intent is to help people gain more out of their lives. As the post mentions, the right-left hemisphere concept is a myth. It’s only the whole brain that matters.


  3. Floortje


    Very interesting read! Thank you Vishal. I also watched your Life streaming. You say you don’t make the world a better place but when you make things better for the people you care for…. well…that makes the world a better place! If they feel better, through the butterfly effect of your actions they will make somebody else feel better…who will make somebody else feel better and so on.. So, you are a world changer…even if you are (as you say) a little thing. Happy Holidays! ps. Yes! on the “emotions are like water”!


    • Vishal


      That’s true Floortje. If everyone simply focuses on helping a few people around us feel better, the world will become a better place. And one key method to do that is to make let emotions flow like water.

      Happy Holidays!


  4. Obsessivemom


    Åll of us only knew of the right brain left brain theory. This new way of using your entire brain is pretty interesting. I’m not sure I’m quite equipped yet to try out mind mapping. I think I’d have to read up much more to get the hang of it.
    I do love that Steve Jobs’ quote. I think this is what happens when we brainstorm – when one idea leads to another.


    • Vishal


      Absolutely Tulika. One idea always leads to another.

      Don’t think that you are not equipped enough to try mind mapping. Just try the steps mentioned. Initial progress might be slow, but you will start enjoying it faster than you know.


  5. Thomas Huynh


    Wow, how amazing that people really thought they can strengthen only one side of their brains like they could with their six pack abs. Yet most trainers would advise you to exercise the entire body if you want to lose those pounds of fat that hide your six pack abs. I’m not a user of mind maps but I am a believer in doing whatever it takes if it works. With hard work and dedication, success is assured!