Many people believe that the secret of getting great ideas is listening to that mysterious inner voice, that guiding intuition that offers brilliant mental suggestions to all those who know how to listen to it.
Well, yes and no.
That is the voice of your creativity, and it should always be honored, but uninformed creativity can often send you down the wrong path . . . the path of irrelevance. So when you're looking for that as-yet-undiscovered idea that will make you (or your client) rich and happy, don't start by looking inside yourself. Look around at the outside world first. Delve into other people's lives and psyches.
I love Frederick Buechner's definition of vocation; it's a true gauge of a great idea, as well. He said that your vocation is when 'your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.' Likewise, a great idea happens when what you have (tangible and intangible) meets the world's deepest hunger.
So where do you begin if you want to have a great idea? Stop counting the ceiling tiles, examining your navel, or staring at that blank sheet of white paper. Get out and talk to the people you're trying to reach! You can pick up so much in a face-to-face conversation with a consumer or a client, either one-on-one or in a well-crafted focus group, if you know how to listen to what that person is saying and process that information accordingly. The rest of this chapter is devoted to helping you develop proactive listening, the kind of rich, active listening that will create the fertile soil for great ideas.