Big Idea Generation Machine – Shower or Sleep?

flash of genius

I almost never have any big ideas in the shower. Apparently I am a weirdo because so many people talk about all the best ideas they have in the shower.

Not me.

best ideas in the shower

I’m not sure if it is because I tend to take pretty quick showers since I have lived in the southern California desert for a long time so water feels crazy precious to me. Or, if it’s because I take showers in the morning and am not awake yet. Coffee is a helluva drug.

But either way I can not remember more than one or two times ever having a flash of insight (or pretty much any other coherent thoughts) in the shower. And as far as I can tell from research and talking to people I know:

That makes me a weirdo.

OK maybe a lot of other things make me a weirdo. But the overwhelming majority of my life changing, flashes of brilliant OMG ideas have come from my dreams. Literally. I dream about the big idea in full technicolor, rousing soundtrack, glorious smells and all. Then I shoot awake shouting “OMG THAT”S IT!”

My lovely wife has gotten pretty used to this by now so she has stopped screaming in terror and punching me when I do this. (well mostly…)

The other times when I get those flashes of genius are when I am in an intense discussion with someone. Usually when I am listening to them explain a problem they are having. I tend to have lightening quick retorts about the way to REALLY solve that problem is X and Y. And X and Y tend to pretty consistently be bloody brilliant, creative solutions to the problem. And every so often they can turn into those rare Big Ideas. Those game changers, those life alterers, those damn pesky ‘must do it or I will die‘ ideas. <– I love/hate those ones. But I literally have no choice and must do them.

flash of genius

When i read articles like Leo’s killer one on the Buffer blog and the premise is that EVERYONE has their best ideas in  the shower and he just wanted to find out WHY, I feel like a leper.

His conclusion as to why all the cool kids have their best ideas in the shower is this:

So this seems to be the magic combination: If you are in a relaxed state of mind, easy to distract and full of dopamine, your brain is most likely to give you your best, most creative ideas.

That is NOT me in the shower in the morning. That is more me when playing Littlest pet Shop with my daughter Emme. But it does describe my likely state when dreaming and sleeping. I am relaxed, my dreams are by nature massive full blown mind distractions and perhaps I am full of dopamine as well.

I found a stellar article on the ideas surrounding creativity. And found this awesome statement:

Successful creators engage in an ongoing dialogue with their work. They put what’s in their head on paper long before it’s fully formed, and they watch and listen to what they’ve recorded, zigging and zagging until the right idea emerges. [Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity]

So if I combine Leo’s premise with the statement about zigging and zagging then that makes my big idea generation machines make more sense. When I have been noodling over something for a while (generally months or more) it tends to take over my dreams. And I am a natural born innovative problem solver. I can not help but want to pick about a problem and break it down, reassemble it and find a unique solution. It’s literally what  do and who I am. So it makes perfect sense why many of my best ideas come from the back and forth of a big problem argument/discussion with other creative thinking people. I tend to feed exponentially off of other creative people and their ideas.

I am a leaper. Lander. Then looker.

A small flash leads to a bigger flash leads to a massive fireworks display of creativity. I am an “If A, then B, then C…. Right to Z” kind of person. Pattern recognition is a well developed talent of mine. That’s likely why I love geometry and hate algebra. Straight logic is not my forte, creative leaps of logic are. Here is a fantastic article dissecting why most big ideas flop, and flop hard.

On another side note I have been casually bringing this idea of where people have their best ideas whether its n the shower or somewhere else. And a strange pattern has emerged from the limited data:

There are two types of people it seems:

  • Those who have big ideas in the shower
  • Those who have their big ideas when talking with others or in dreams

And I have found that quite often I do not get along as well with the ‘shower thinkers’.

Are you a shower thinker or a dream or discussion thinker?

By Andy Newbom

My name is Andy Newbom. At this time there are less than 10 Newboms in the world. Not sure if thats good or bad.


  1. I always keep something by my bedside to capture those great dream ideas. But sometimes, you have to just get up and work on them! 🙂

  2. I have done that so many times!! A bit harder with kids knowing you have to get up at 7am but still worth it

Comments are closed.