I am fascinated by the stories of how people came up with the idea for their company.

Or, the chorus of their hit single.

Or, the string of lines for the beginning of a poem that came to them while they were gardening, or showering, or sitting in traffic.

These shimmers of ideas that seem to shine down like spotlights come from seemingly nowhere. Hence, why we call them so affectionately our ‘aha’ moments.

I began to explore some of these ideation processes for my upcoming book, Her Big Idea, and was mystified by the seemingly ephemeral nature of ideas floating in an ‘Idea Collective’, sparking light bulbs in the brains of their unsuspecting recipients.

Because there is significant neuroscientific research on how we come up with ideas and reach this ‘aha’ (beyond the mystical), I was curious as to if we could ‘trick’ our brains to be open to receiving more AHA’s. More ways to express ourselves creatively. More ways to create workable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. More ways to make people happy; to engage with our content and find that it resonates.

Anyone who creates begins their journey with the AHA, and the more bold, boisterous, and brilliant it is, the more that idea can change their life.

I sat down with Allen Gannett, the founder of TrackMaven, to talk to him about his own upcoming book, The Creative Curve, which hones in on this very topic. As an idea aficionado, I tore through the book. In fact, just reading the chapters and speaking with Allen about his research commenced so many AHA’s, I wholeheartedly believe that there’s something to this creative curve. And I want all of it.

He shared with me the three scientific ways that we can be more creative, and infuse more heavenly moments of insight into our day to day lives; so the ideas can string together like Christmas lights, helping our creative genius to reach its full potential.

1.Consume, consume, consume. – You know the mystical story of how Paul McCartney woke up one morning with the melody to ‘Yesterday’ in his head? Allen talks about this, and J.K. Rowling’s lightning bolt of the Harry Potter idea, in his book. Stories like these seem so effortless that we wonder – why don’t WE wake up with the echoes of the next hit song in our head on a typical Tuesday? 

Allen calls out the romanticized mystique and chocks it up instead to the creator’s level of consumption before the conception of the idea. “The more we study something within a vertical, the more there is for our synapses to connect and come up with new ideas”, he told me. And his understanding of it checks out: McCartney had been performing in cover bands his entire life. He understood music; it was his ‘vertical’. J.K. Rowling had read fiction books all her life. She was friends with fantastical creatures and twisted storylines. An interviewee of his book, producer of the Hunger Games Nina Jacobson, had started her career in Hollywood as a script reader. This consumption of content had been implanted subconsciously, so that when it was time for them to create their own magic, they simply had to mentally plug the puzzle pieces together.

Put it into action: Some of Allen’s interviewees recommended being diligent and methodical with consumption on a daily basis. In the book, he calls it the 20% Principle – the idea that spending 20% of your creative life consuming will yield AHA’s a-plenty. Carve out an hour or two every morning to consume. Have your coffee with a side of research and reading. 

2.) Let your brain do its tango, but save a dance for the right side.

It takes two to tango, and our brains have two hemispheres – the left and the right. Allen thinks of their tango with this metaphor: that the left side of the brain is like the loud lab partner, telling the right side what to do and being very vocal about its processes, whereas the right side is constantly ruminating and working, seldom saying much. The right hemisphere is also where “creative” thinking happens, but “if the left side is too loud, you’ll never hear the right,” he explained to me. This is why carving out quiet time is so important – and why time when we’re forced to be quiet or divert our attention away from tasks at hand, such as when we’re in the shower or driving, is when some of the best ideas seem to click into place. It’s the ‘Science of Silence’. Paul McCartney wasn’t focused on tuning his guitar when the melody of “Yesterday” came to him. J.K. Rowling wasn’t checking the train schedule when Harry Potter came to her. Their minds were in resting state – and the right side stood up for a dance.

Put it into action: We all know we can’t sit down with an empty notepad in silence and expect an idea to come from the heavens. But, knowing that the resting state promotes AHA’s should encourage you to set aside time in the day when you aren’t focused on producing, accomplishing, or doing. Call walks in the park, bubble baths, or even mindless window shopping ‘creative time’. Ideas seem to find us the quickest when we aren’t looking.

3) Interactive Imitation.

One key to the creative process is what Allen coins “Interactive Imitation.” Many of the creators he interviewed described how they first learned the structure of great work by imitating, almost “touching and feeling,” other great work as they consumed it.

One of the interviewees, esteemed New York Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin, shared that when he first wanted to learn to write a compelling article, he would outline old front-page stores. How did they start? When and where did they introduce the thesis? Supporting details?. The better he understood the framework of what makes a good article from all of that reading, the easier it was for him add his own creativity in. By imitating the story arc then interacting with the imitation, he could fill the blank space with his own creation.

This sounds like counting straws of hay in a haystack for someone who doesn’t love to write articles. But, it was simply a process of curiosity for Sorkin.

Put it into action: Lay the groundwork for your big idea by participating in this Interactive Imitation. Copy story arcs, structures, and patterns until your own genius seeps through the cracks, making it entirely your own.

One of my favorite quotes from my own book is: “We are not given an idea without the capacity to bring it to life,” so the more we focus on our capacity to create, the easier our creative curve can be, from the moment the AHA hits to the glorious journey of creation that awaits. If you are in search of your own AHA’s, be sure to check out Allen’s new book, The Creative Curve.


  • Haley Hoffman Smith

    Speaker & Author of Her Big Idea

    Haley Hoffman Smith is the author of Her Big Idea, a book on ideation and women's empowerment which debuted as a Top 3 Bestseller. She has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Washington Examiner, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown in May 2018. She is the founder of the Her Big Idea Fund in partnership with Brown's Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, which awards grants to women who apply with BIG ideas, and Her Big Lash, a cosmetics company.

    At Brown, she was the President of Women’s Entrepreneurship and started the first-ever women’s entrepreneurship incubator. She speaks on topics such as women's empowerment, innovation, social impact, and personal branding regularly across companies and college campuses, most recently at Harvard, TEDx, SoGal Ventures, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and more.