The ABCs of Idea Generation

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The ABCs of Idea Generation

One of the first bottlenecks you’ll probably come to when starting a YouTube channel is the fear of running out of content ideas and idea generation in general. A fear you’ll get to a point where you’ve got nothing new or interesting to offer to your audience.

“What if I run out of content ideas?”

And this fear is completely legit – I used to worry a lot about running out of ideas during my first year of doing YouTube properly. Especially as I knew the formula for YouTube success involved making decent videos and making them constantly (i.e. 1 video/week for 2+ years).

Even with an abundance of ideas, that output isn’t easy. But it definitely helps.

So figuring out a process for capturing and generating new video ideas is crucial to streamline your content creation process and give you the best opportunity to succeed.

Fortunately, over the past four years of my YouTube journey I’ve done exactly that and it’s what I’m going to share with you now. This process is what I call the ABC method of idea generation:

  1. Ask Your Audience
  2. Birdsong Technique
  3. Coal Mining

🙋 Ask Your Audience

“You can’t read the label from inside the bottle”

This is a nice phrase that my writing coach likes to tell me. In short, when you’re too close to something, you can’t see it.

We don’t appreciate our own skill or competence because we’re a very critical observer of our own abilities. As a result, we think that we’re not particularly interesting and nobody is going to take us seriously. This leads to two negative thoughts that destroy our ability to think of ideas and regularly create new content:

  1. Imposter Syndrome – when we think we’re not qualified to talk about something, we often hold back from putting ourselves out there.
  2. Fear of failure – when we think our content is likely to perform poorly, we see little point in putting in the effort upfront. This therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s only when we get out of the bottle we discover how much we have to offer.

The best way to do this is by listening to others. Other people have a more objective opinion of our abilities and are happy to tell us what we’re good at. And what they want to learn from us (like how you study or how you type fast etc.). This helps you to discover what sort of content you should be creating.

Asking your audience then is a fantastic way to get a bunch of new video ideas. The easiest way to do this is to post something on Twitter and Instagram saying something like “I want to make a video but need some ideas – what should I make a video about next?”. From this, you’ll receive loads of messages from fans literally telling you what they want to see. I now never worry about thinking of video ideas because the worst case scenario is I just ask my audience.

You might be thinking “well, that’s easy for you to say”, but even if you’re ‘billy no-mates’ and have no audience yet, it’s still possible to ask for ideas from your friends and family. This is a super easy way to generate a handful of video titles and get your channel flowing with ideas even before that first person subscribes.

🐦 Birdsong Technique

The Birdsong Technique comes from the idea that when you spend the time to research and learn about the chirping/warbling of different birds, you start to really appreciate the sounds they make. After a short time you’ll also begin recognising what bird is singing each specific song. Rather than it being some random-ass background sound that most of us hear but ignore.

So by understanding the basics of birdsong, it suddenly takes on a whole new colouring. And it’s basically the same with content lol.

When you’re a content consumer, you sort of passively enjoy the things that other people have created. You don’t think anything of it other than “this is kinda cool”. But as soon as you decide to be the creator, everything shifts. You start consuming content as a creator, and begin thinking “how can I use this content in my next video/article”.

So the birdsong technique is about recognising that all content is great for helping us to generate ideas.

You can find ideas from lots of different places using this technique. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, listening to podcasts, reading articles on Instapaper, and reading books on my Kindle. And I’m constantly asking myself whether or not there’s some interesting insight that I can use for my next video, article or newsletter. This is great because idea generation becomes a natural part of what I would be doing anyway.

There’s just one thing you should keep in mind – if the content you consume is very different from the content you create, something is going wrong. In an ideal world, the stuff you’re consuming would have some correlation to the stuff you’re creating. This makes the whole creation process a lot more streamlined.

⛏ Coal Mining

The idea behind Coal Mining is that you are actively looking for ‘hot spots’. And a hot spot is an area where you’re likely to find coal (i.e. video ideas) if you start digging. This coal can then be used to create diamonds (i.e. banging video content).

In other words, the Coal Mining technique is when you are actively mining for video ideas from other sources.

Depending on your niche and the content you’re producing, there’s likely to be a number of different hot spots you can keep going back to from across the internet to generate ideas. Whenever you find one of these hot spots (like a YouTube channel, podcast, or website), and you can sense that there’s a lot of content that ties in nicely with the stuff you want to make, you just make a note of the link. These links then go into our Coal Mine for future reference.

Original Source vs Derivative

When you’re starting out with the Coal Mining technique it’s totally fine to use a blog post and apply your own lens to it when creating a YouTube video. But over time, as you become more of an authority in your field, you want to go to the original sources and have your own interpretation of it. Rather than using already distilled content that’s a third or fourth derivative of the original research paper.

We can’t all get rich selling each other’s shoes

This phrase captures the idea nicely.

At the start, you certainly can get rich doing this. For example, I’m learning to draw but not trying to make any original art. I’m just copying references of superheroes as best I can so I can learn the ropes. The same is fine when you’re learning to make YouTube videos.

But over time you want to go back to the original sources and make yourself an authority in a space, rather than distilling the wisdom of others. This is the only way for you to think of unique video ideas and reach your full potential, as you’ll no longer be ‘selling other people’s shoes’.

🏗 Building Systems

The ABC method of idea generation is only as good as the system behind it. If you don’t have a system to properly store/capture your ideas you’re just going to forget them all. This clearly isn’t very helpful.

Ideally you want to write all your ideas down as quickly as possible. The easiest way of doing this is probably to just make a note of everything in your phone’s default notes app, but this is still pretty slow.

My solution was something I call the ‘magic insight logging framework’. I talk about this and my other systems for capturing ideas in a lot more depth on my course, the Part-Time YouTuber Academy. But the essential point is that if you use an app like Readwise, you can quickly share all the things that resonate with you into the app from Kindle, Instapaper, podcasts, and Twitter. These insights can then be directly shared into something like Notion (my favourite app), which makes it super easy to build a database of video ideas.

As I already mentioned, If you want to hear more about the systems and workflow I use for YouTube (including my Idea Generation Machine) this is something I spend a lot of time discussing during the PTYA – so make sure you sign up if this interests you.

👋 Conclusion

The objective as a YouTuber is to never run out of ideas. If you’re lacking ideas, you’re not going to consistently create content and each video will feel like a heavy lift. This will inevitably end in you giving up.

So having different methods to effortlessly generate and capture ideas – like the ABC method – is key to finding success and enjoying your YouTube journey.

Ali Abdaal

About The Author

I'm an ex-doctor turned YouTuber, Podcaster, entrepreneur and author. I've been creating YouTube videos for over 7 years and have a following of over 4 million over on my main channel.

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1 year ago

This is loaded. Thank you, sir