If I asked you to list the skills that are most important to growing a successful podcast, what comes to mind?
I’m guessing it’s the technical ones.
Skills like recording & editing audio, conducting compelling interviews, scripting, copywriting, and marketing.
All of these skills are certainly a necessary part of producing and growing a podcast. But even if you were to master each of them, they would still fall flat without one other skill.
That skill is idea generation.
At the core, a podcast is nothing but a vehicle for one or more ideas.
Which means that the most important elements of your show are the ideas behind it.
In my experience, it’s not a lack of marketing or technical skills that holds most podcast creators back. It’s the quality and originality (or lack thereof) of their ideas.
Every week, I talk to podcasters who find themselves scrambling to find a topic to record about the day before their next episode is due to go live.
This is not operating from a place of power.
While it often feels as though we’re at the mercy of the Muse when it comes to finding ideas, idea generation is both a skill and a system.
If we approach it as such, it doesn’t take long to drastically improve the quality of our ideas, and thus our show.
Creating a system for generating good ideas is simple:
- Have a lot of ideas.
- Pick out the best of them
Think of a content creator who manages to blow your mind or make you think differently with everything they produce.
Chances are they’re not a genius who is able to turn everything they touch to gold. Much more likely is that they have thousands upon thousands of bad ideas with a few gems scattered in between.
I track my own idea generation process religiously. In the past year, I’ve written down more than 1,600 ideas for blog posts, newsletters, and Twitter threads.
Of those 1,600 ideas, I’ve published less than 100.
Many of those 1,600 ideas were solid. Some I’ll certainly write about in the future.
Most were mediocre at best, however.
But you can’t get to the gold unless you’re willing to dig through a lot of dirt.
The good news is idea generation is a skill that can be learned and developed. Here’s how to do it:
- Get curious about the world around you. Develop your muscle of noticing, and then asking, “Why?” Interesting ideas are made by connecting dots that haven’t been connected before. But before you can connect the dots you need to collect them. Read and consume broadly, both within your niche and outside of it. The most interesting ideas make connections in unexpected ways between seemingly unrelated topics.
- Write down every idea that comes to your head. No matter how bad, how stupid, how laughable, write every idea down. Your goal here is simply to build the muscle of recording.
- Review and filter your list of ideas regularly. I use a Notion database to review my ideas on a weekly basis, giving each a rating out of five. I then review the list of 4 and 5-star ideas monthly in order to prioritize them.
- Publish. Nothing encourages idea generation like a deadline. The single biggest boost to my idea generation habit was committing to writing and publishing a blog post on a daily basis. If you want to ease your way in, commit to writing a single Tweet every day. If an idea can’t be concisely and compellingly expressed in a Tweet, it’s probably not that good.
More ideas = better ideas = better podcast.
A podcast without compelling ideas, after all, is like owning a Lamborghini without an engine. You might look cool sitting in it but you’re not going anywhere.