Become an idea machine in three steps

The Time Warner Cable method produces ideas that matter

Credit: Ameen Fahmy

In a recent episode of my podcast, The Warrior Poet, we discuss a lot of things. Crazy things. Like being sentenced to 7 years of your brain being put inside a whale’s body. And in-vivo virus detection machines. [1]

These ideas push the bounds of what we take for granted — because taking things for granted is the biggest obstacle to coming up with ideas that actually matter.

There’s this guy I know who takes nothing for granted. His name is Archimedes.


Supposedly Archimedes went running through the streets naked when he discovered a solution to a problem he was charged to solve by the king. The problem, determining if a supposedly gold crown was impure or not without melting it, was deemed by many others impossible to solve. Archimedes was only 22 at the time. [2]

“Eureka” means “I have found it.”

But… how did Archimedes “find it” exactly? We’re not talking about him seeing his bathtub overflow as he was getting in the tub, as the story goes. Countless others had gotten in tubs before Archimedes, just like countless others had seen apples fall from trees before Newton.

Rather, what did Archimedes eat for breakfast that day that allowed him to generate such a solution, and can we get some of that?

Tips and tricks are for losers

A number of articles claim to help you develop ideas, but the ones I found suffered from three key flaws:

  1. Superficiality: banal actions poorly justified, that anyone can do but few will
  2. Focus on generating merely more ideas instead of really incredible ideas
  3. Treatment of idea generation as a task, a thing you do at a specified time and place rather than a byproduct of serious thinking

If you’re looking for some clickbait, sorry, this isn’t a listicle promising easy results.

Credit: Kristina Flour

The Time Warner Cable method

(Don’t tell anyone)

The bottom line is that you need to think better and think more. In the podcast episode referred to above, I propose a framework for coming up with ideas that matter, which I have dubbed the “Time Warner Cable method” simply as a mnemonic to make it easier to remember: “T W C.”

T is for Time: Archimedes and other “titans of history” as a I call them devoted serious time to thinking. It’s unlikely you’ll generate the next unicorn business idea in a few hours next Saturday afternoon. You should be thinking expansively and deeply all the time. This has the perhaps obvious benefit of producing more understanding and (as a byproduct) ideas. But it also will result in your thinking becoming more productive per hour.

W is for Wonder: If you are curious about the world and its workings, you are much more likely to want to understand it and improve it. [3] Wonder leads one to get smart and dig deep. It’s a shame our education system generally crushes wonder.

It’s a shame our education system generally crushes wonder.

C is for Confidence: Those who believe they can discover interesting problems and devise ingenious solutions are likely to find them. Those who don’t, won’t. The latter group won’t waste their time mulling over a problem others have failed at. This isn’t just a motivational platitude. Evidence of lack of belief leading to failure is all around us. My favorite example is how fast kids give up when looking for something. Parents believe and persevere, shifting around piles of things that they know have 0.001% chance of yielding a result. Who finds the thing that’s lost?

As a former Amazonian I can’t help but add a runner-up to this framework: Delight. Passion for delighting other people in society goes a looong way.

Credit: Blaz Erzetic

Easy right?

Of course not. I could tell you to “do these 5 things” every morning to be an idea machine, and that would make for a successful article. But 0% of us including myself would actually do the 5 things, whatever they were. More importantly, being an idea machine is not actually the goal. The point is to ask the kinds of questions no one else is dreaming of. Asking “why” in the right ways and generating ideas that move the world won’t come easy.

More importantly, being an idea machine is not actually the goal. The point is to ask the kinds of questions no one else is dreaming of.

And anyway, someone who is spending the Time, has Wonder, and is Confident they can perform magic can figure out their own 5 things. They’ll be thinking more — and thinking better — than most of us.

About the author: Sri hosts The Warrior Poet podcast, a show on the philosophy of leadership based on his experience in the SEAL Teams, at Harvard Business School, on Wall Street, and in tech. Shows every Monday. Follow him on Instagram @sri_the_warrior_poet and @sri_actually.

All the way wet (aka footnotes)

[1] Granted, we also talk about the Pixies song “Where Is My Mind” and how the woman in Apple’s classic 1984 commercial looks like Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe in the AMC show Halt and Catch Fire.

[2] Interestingly, the king was his cousin.

[3] I’m not just speaking of the natural world. Some academic types make it seem like if you’re not interested in astrophysics or quantum phenomena, then you’re not a smart person.

Not Siri. Sri (shree'). Navy SEAL, podcaster, machine learning, father. Trying to understand jazz. Trying to find huevos rancheros.

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