Gather intellectual scraps to shape ideas of your own

Most books and essays are filled with anecdotes that help the author communicate the main thesis.

In podcasts, the host and the guest often explore a wide-range of topics, talking shallowly about this idea or that idea.

Those anecdotes and passing remarks in books or podcasts are what I call “intellectual scraps.” They are ideas presented by someone else, but because of the nature of the book or conversation, they don’t go too in-depth about them.

Sometimes it’s a person’s name from history that you’ve never heard before, or a seminal essay or book that you haven’t read. Other times it’s an event from history you’re not familiar with.

These intellectual scraps are gold mines for finding new ideas to write and think about.

A good way to spot intellectual scraps is to pay attention to whenever you think, "Man, I wish they talked or wrote more about that idea.”

When this happens – whether it’s a figure from history, a reference to something you haven’t heard before, an event you’re not familiar with, or something else entirely – make a mental note of it. When you have some downtime, do a quick Google search to familiarize yourself with the reference.

Doing this allows you to learn about the peripheral ideas in books or podcasts that others don’t pick up on. This is a competitive advantage. If you read the same book as everyone else, but have trained yourself to learn something different from it, you’ll have more unique insights as the ideas start to compound on one another.

Collecting intellectual scraps is how you shape ideas of your own.