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How to Find Your Next Big Idea

If you’re ready for your next adventure, take what you need: a healthy dose of curiosity and your street smarts – and leave what you don’t: attachment to old forms and narrow-minded possibilities. It can be hard knowing which rules were made to be broken. Rebellion for the sake of rebellion can feel chaotic and immature, but staying with the status quo will never yield the innovation and break-out results that help you stay on top of the game.

Harvard Business School professors Francesca Gino and Ting Zhang on what you need, and what you don’t, to find your next big idea.

"I think we really need to shift our thinking," says Gino. "Rebels are people who break rules that should be broken. They break rules that hold them and others back, and their way of rule breaking is constructive rather than destructive. It creates positive change."

Expertise NOT Experience

Your specific skills and training will help you find where to go. These are likely transferrable and are central to who you are and what you bring. “It’s important to know what your gift is,” says Gino. "Your expertise will be your guiding light as you search for what might be next for you."

On the other hand, relying on your experience, and the way you’ve done things before, is practically a guarantee for stalemate. Evolution demands growth and change, and while your experience of how things have been done may have been helpful in previous contexts, don’t let yourself get held hostage by old ways of thinking.

For example, as a writer, your expertise may be in capturing stories and understanding your interview subjects, but your experience in certain forms of storytelling or finding sources may need to be re-evaluated. There was nothing wrong with having done things that way before, but nothing changes if nothing changes.

Experimentation NOT Expectations

Zhang’s research focuses on rediscovery and novelty – injecting that sense of curiosity into the moment. As you try to make your next move, whether it’s a different career path or a new kind of project, be expansive with your imagination and start taking small, smart risks. This kind of experimentation and learning by doing will help you understand which directions to move towards, and which to move away from. This may be as simple as taking a new class or attending new events, to asking to help out on new projects at work or taking that hobby of yours to the next level.

Expectations – whether they’re yours or if they’re imposed on you – are only going to hinder your discovery. The more open you can be about outcomes, the more you’ll find. Your new idea may not be profitable right away, your transition may not happen quickly, your new path may not look like the old one. That’s ok! The best innovations are often challenging to the status quo. As much as possible, set aside the expectations and pressures for something to be a certain way, and let yourself be a beginner again.

Consider this: Zhang found that even recalling the experience of being a novice helped a professional give better advice. By putting themselves back in that moment of newness, curiosity, and experimentation, the seasoned professional was able to be a more effective teacher and leader. They were able to use their expertise to guide experimentation, rather than using all of their experiences to guide towards specific expectations.

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