If you think about overhearing something, you probably think of listening to someone else’s conversation, whether deliberately or accidentally, and picking up a titbit of information that you would never otherwise have been privy to.
It might be funny, or shocking or useful, or – as in the case of so many loud phone calls in public places – completely boring, pointless or annoying.
But have you ever thought about overhearing yourself?
Because in my experience, this is a great – and often overlooked – source of new ideas.
Most of my blog posts, articles, book chapters and podcasts have come from things I find myself saying over and over to coaching clients, and realising this means they are useful, so I should write them down:
And so on. I’ve realised that as long as I’m coaching and helping clients deal with the challenges that come their way, then new ideas will keep emerging from the conversations we have. And the best ones are the ones I keep repeating, because they are the ones that apply to the most people.
I just need to pay attention, and overhear myself saying something useful.
Sometimes I even get ideas for poems by overhearing myself. I catch myself repeating the same anecdote to more than one friend, and realise there’s something important or memorable about that experience, and maybe it could be a poem.
Like the first time I went to Japan, and tried to order brandies for myself and 2 friends at a cafe in Hiroshima. The waitress seemed very surprised, but I insisted we wanted three, so she shrugged her shoulders and brought us three triple brandies…
Or the time I was staying in a Buddhist monastery and we all got up before sunrise to meditate. As I sat there cross-legged in the dark, I heard someone snoring loudly, and couldn’t believe one of these dedicated monks had fallen asleep, or that no one gave him a nudge when he woke up. It was only when the sun came up that I spotted the monastery cat curled up asleep next to the abbot.
Or another time I was in Japan, watching a documentary on extreme weather conditions, with lots of footage of floods and buildings collapsing and cars being swept away, and wondered why tomorrow’s date was appearing in the corner of the screen, and suddenly realised it wasn’t a documentary, it was the weather forecast…
All of these turned out to be poems trying to catch my attention. Eventually I took the hint and wrote them down.
So next time you catch yourself offering the same piece of advice or telling the same story over and over again, start listening in, as if you were listening to a stranger’s conversation, and ask yourself: ‘Is there something here I can put to good use?”
You can hear an audio version of this article on this episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast, starting at 2’46”.