Mind maps also play a part. They are a common note-taking tool used to connect different ideas on a single page. For Whitaker, the maps must be colourful and the flow of ideas onto the page uninterrupted by judgmental thoughts.
“I’m a very visual person, so I love to sit down with a massive, blank piece of paper,” she says.
Feedback from customers through focus groups and surveys also helps her to generate ideas, as does testing ideas in real life by using small prototypes.
Sally-Ann Williams, chief executive officer of Cicada Innovations
Sally-Ann Williams says her best ideas come from two activities: networking and running.
Williams, who is the chief executive of deep-tech incubator Cicada Innovations, says she likes to ask people about the problems they are grappling with as well as what is keeping them up at night. Having these conversations with people working across a range of industries enables her to connect the dots between different ideas and disciplines – especially when multiple people are focused on the same problem.
“When you synthesise that information, and it all comes together, you can find opportunities and new ideas or new collaborations at the intersection between two people,” Williams says.
She says running gives her the mental space required to make these connections more freely. For at least the first 20 minutes of a run, her mind is occupied with her to-do list and plans for the week, but then “a space” emerges for “really big, deep thinking”.
“There’s a space that happens – if you don’t fill it with something, if you don’t fill it with music, if you don’t fill it with a podcast, if you just fill it with putting one foot in front of another and looking at things, it creates a space in your brain for stuff that maybe is in the background,” Williams says.
“And creating a space to let things bubble up, I think, is really, really important.”
Caroline Gurney, chief executive of Future Generation
Caroline Gurney goes on an early morning walk whenever she needs to work through a problem. Finding greenery is a bonus. The British-born chief executive says that was “probably because I grew up surrounded by grass”.
“If I’m writing an opinion piece, or if I’m speaking at a conference and I have the keynote, I’ll go for a walk, and I’ll think about what messaging I want to get across and I’ll really focus on it,” Gurney says.
“Time sort of flies by and then suddenly I think, ‘My gosh, I’ve got to get back’. But I’ll usually write [my thoughts] down immediately or dictate [them] into my phone. And then I’ll come back and listen to it again and refine it and put it down on the computer.”
Another strategy is adaptation. Gurney draws inspiration and ideas from the Financial Times and Harvard Business Review, as well as from tech giants Microsoft and Apple and cloud software company Salesforce.
“I take bits of what’s been done before, and then try and adapt it to what we need it to be,” Gurney says.
For example, Future Generation aims to respond to shareholder queries on the day it receives them – a target that Gurney linked to the speedy assistance she has received as a customer of Microsoft and Apple. Gurney says getting her phone fixed within minutes of entering an Apple shop in Sydney hammered home the importance of addressing shareholder concerns in a timely manner.
Revisiting old notes is another strategy.
“I continually write things down, and then I revisit [my notes] every month,” Gurney says.
“I just look at them and say, ‘OK, what haven’t I done? What do we need to do? Was there anything in this [idea]? No, there wasn’t, discard it’.”
Catriona Wallace, founder of Responsible Metaverse Alliance
Catriona Wallace has a less conventional routine for coming up with ideas.
The Responsible Metaverse Alliance founder travels overseas a couple of times a year to take natural psychedelic substances where it is legal to do so. Wallace, who is also a director of the Gradient Institute, says this helps her envision the future and find ways to be more useful to others.
“An example of that is [when] I founded the Responsible Metaverse Alliance this year,” she says.
“That came out of a deep journey using psychedelics to consider what is really needed in emerging technology, how can this go badly, and what do I need to do to take responsibility for helping all this technology go in the right direction?”
The Responsible Metaverse Alliance assists government officials, regulators and policymakers in addressing the potential harms of the metaverse, while the Gradient Institute is a not-for-profit research institute focused on building ethics, accountability and transparency into artificial intelligence.
Earlier this year, Wallace travelled to Mexico to take “the Sonoran Desert toad medicine”. The venom of the toad, which is commonly called Five or Bufo (after its former scientific name, Bufo alvarius), contains the natural psychedelic drug 5-MeO-DMT and is legal in Mexico. Smoking the compound induces an intense trip that typically lasts between 15 and 30 minutes.
In addition to attending psychedelic retreats overseas, Wallace spends a lot of time with Indigenous communities, both in Australia and overseas, to “listen to their wisdom and experience and predictions for the future”.
She also believes neurodiverse people, such as people with autism, have “extremely good ideas”. And she invests up to five hours a day watching podcasts and reading material on the metaverse to identify potential business opportunities.
Mario Rehayem, chief executive officer of Pepper Money
Mario Rehayem has three children, races cars at a professional level, and is actively involved in the Real Life Fund community initiative with St Kilda Football Club.
He is also a member of the Insead alumni network, as well as a private group of ASX-listed CEOs based in Australia.
Rehayem tells BOSS that his various hobbies and networks connect him to a diverse group of people that help shape and improve his own ideas. He says having a diverse network leads to “a broader and clearer understanding” of the wider community.
As for generating better ideas within his company, non-bank lender Pepper Money, Rehayem says he strives to instil a work culture based on curiosity.
Scheduling meetings to generate ideas is doomed to fail as it feels forced, he says. Rather, leaders must empower staff to constantly question everything and make them feel as though they can raise problems with senior staff members at any time.
“I think it’s important to celebrate those that challenge the business,” Rehayem tells BOSS.
New starters provide particularly useful insights, he adds. This is because they see things with a fresh pair of eyes and are “no longer going into that BAU (business-as-usual) mentality”.