“List of 20” For Creativity

AIoT / General

“List of 20” For Creativity

I got a lot of comments on my recent short video about my “List of 20” for creating ideas. Here, I want to expand on the idea and give an example.

You first write down the topic or question you want to address at the top of the list. The goal is to write down 20 solutions or approaches to that topic. The first 5 are usually relatively easy; the next 10 are a little harder; the last 5 usually require digging.

I also like to include references to tie back to previous ideas. In the example below, item #4 refers back to item #3, and item #8 refers back to both items #4 and #7. The order of the items is totally irrelevant. Referrals allow me to ignore the written order of my ideas, but still be able to reconstruct the flow later. The primary objective is to capture ideas as they come to you.

When you get stuck, read back over previous ideas for inspiration. For example, by #12 I was running out of ideas for time- and space-based patterns. So I went back through my previous ideas and decided for #13 to return to engagement in #1.

Example List of 20:

Topic: What AIoT topic should I blog about?

  1. Something to encourage readers to engage
  2. Something to demonstrate how AI enriches IoT
  3. AI finds patterns in IoT data
  4. #3 AI finds patterns across both time & space
  5. AIoT employs a lot of technologies beyond just GenAI
  6. #5 But AIoT can also use GenAI — in some places
  7. #6 Most people think GenAI is text => text, but it is really sequence => sequence
  8. #4 #7 seq => seq is primarily a pattern over time
  9. #4 #8 graph neural networks are primarily for patterns over space
  10. I want an algorithm that predicts evolution over both time & space simultaneously
  11. #10 Alternate between 1 evolution step in space and 1 evolution step in time
  12. #11 How would I backprop across both time-based NN and space-based GNN?
  13. #1 Ask a question
  14. #1 Ask a poll. Did you find this idea useful?
  15. (NO) #14 Poll: how many times have you tried this
  16. #1 Leave a comment on how you expect to use this
  17. Leave a comment on how your first use worked out
  18. #17 Send me an email or comment with a photo of your first attempt
  19. Emphasize that spelling, grammar and structure are not important
  20. #19 Focus on creating ideas !

Additional Notes

I write my lists with pen and paper in my notebook. Research that says writing (not typing) helps you remember better. I permanently write these lists in my notebook, so I can go back and review them later.

I write these lists for myself. I’m the only consumer of my lists. If you’re doing this as team, then the team is the only consumer. You’ll present the best idea(s) from your list to others in a different format, don’t show them the list, because it will cause you to try and be “perfect” when creating it, and that’s a BAD idea for creativity.

I freely use abbreviations that *I* know, like AIoT, GenAI, NN, GNN, backprop, … No need to for me to spell them out to myself.

Some list items are solutions (#4), some are questions (#12), some are just concepts (#8). It’s totally OK for some ideas to be crazy and outlandish. #11 is sort of outlandish, but I’ve had ideas that are much crazier (think perpetual motion machines). But these then lead to and clarify “what problem would the outlandish idea solve”, and then follow-on ideas can drill in on that problem.

When I reject an idea like #15, I write the NO in the left margin (to the left of the number, not as part of the list item). But it still counts as one of the 20.

The number 20 is arbitrary, but is large enough to force yourself into the “having to dig deeply” zone. On a few occasions, I run out of time or energy before making it all the way to 20 — but 20 is always my goal. And you don’t have to stop at 20. Once I was on a long airplane flight and generated 143 ideas!

The “List of 20” is a tool I use to help me generate ideas. It encourages multi-hop thinking, not the 1 or 2 hops when I’m just thinking in my head.


So, what is the result of this list of 20? It’s the following call to action:

Please leave me a comment on whether you’re going to try it (#16), and/or a photo of your first attempt (#18).