Stumbling around the Interweb pays off.

I like to spend a lot of time stumbling around the internet.  It is not uncommon for people to associate this activity with slacking off or time wasting.  I however see it as a great source of inspiration and new ideas. It is an important ingredient in leaving average behind and setting great in your sights.  I think you need a certain knack or approach however to be successful at it.

First off,  tabs are essential.  If you don’t use tabs regularly in your browsing habbits then this is the first thing you need to change.  Every major browser supports them nowadays so there’s no excuse not to use them.  It’s not uncommon for me to be on a page and see links to several other pages that are of interest.  If you don’t use tabs you will find following them all difficult.  Especially when you jump to several other pages off each of them and so on and so on.  You only have a limited amount of time,  energy and focus.  This is really important in making sure you spend as much as possible of all of these on absorbing and contemplating content rather than in finding and navigating it.

Next,  you need to maintain an open mind.  New ideas for all manner of things can come to you at any time,  even when you’re not specifically searching for them. Don’t miss these opportunitites.  For instance,  I use a lot of little logic and problem solving activities in my teaching.  I think it keeps the students interested and involved and also helps develop their problem solving ability.  I found most of my best little activities when doing research on completely unrelated things.   I don’t think I would have found any of them if searching for specifically problem solving activities.   Research suggests that to be have an open mind one of the best things you can do is be in a relaxed and comfortable state.

Be prepared to modify or expand what it is you are looking for.  You will often start off with an idea on what it is you are in search of.  Invariably,  as you learn more you will find that the goal posts move. But it is also natural to be averse to change.  Fight this tendency and branch out into different areas.  For instance,  I am developing a product at the moment and have done research on user interface design.  I started out thinking all I was looking for was how to pick a good colour scheme and a bit of inspiration on what a good layout is.  Several weeks later my ideas have completely changed.  I am now looking into the whole design in much more detail,  from a multitude of different angles.  I have also learned about Gestalt perceptions and many other things.  I have completely redone my interface and must admit I am stunned by the result.  Accept from the outset that your initial ideas will probably be wrong and that your goal is going to evolve along with your solution.

Keep track of things.  You are finding all this great content,  but it is useless if you don’t store it in a way that you can come back to it.  Bookmarks are good,  but only if they are sorted properly.  Otherwise you’ll just end up with a mess of links you can’t find anything in.  Folders or tags are both good,  it’s really just a matter of what works for you.  Whichever you choose,  do keep it organised and clean though.  Another good idea is to keep a notepad with you.  I like to write main points down in my pad as I go,  link them with lines and so on.  This way I have an overall summary of the ideas I’m developing.  You could do this on the computer however I find a notepad to be better.  It’s always with me when I’ve got spare (waiting for the train,  etc) time I can look over it and ponder and often come up with new ideas or insights.

Get yourself on relevant mailing lists.  Other people’s discussions are a great way to find information on things you would never have even thought to look for.  I’m on mailing lists for a few different areas that I’m generally interested in.  The great thing is,  new posts every day get emailed to me so I don’t even have to go to the effort of visiting the sites.  At the beginning of every day I skim through the discussions  and often find all manner of little gems.

Go back to searching several times.  Go back a few days or a week or so later and search again.  You’ll be in a different frame of mind and will likely find different things you wouldn’t have considered in previous times.

There’s a goldmind of ideas and inspiration out there.  It’s just unfortunate that it’s a needle in a haystack.  There’s no silver bullet to finding that gold but the tips above will give you a magnet with which to help you search.


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