I am asked frequently how I get ideas, and each time I give a different response.

Ideas are all around us. Here is today’s response:

I think I get ideas because I look for ideas. I have different constituencies and feel I have to “produce” for each of them. Produce means coming up with new ideas. I have clients that I continually want to wow and need new ideas for them. I have partners and staff and try to come up with new ideas for them. I serve on a number of charity boards and also need ideas for that.

I write three blogs a week and many articles during the year and need ideas for that. Nothing new means no one will read what I offer. I give a lot of speeches, primarily to accounting groups and webinars, and if I don’t present new ideas and ways of doing something, my colleagues and peers will not attend. I have friends I interact regularly with and also want to bring up new ideas for them to consider or to use to vet ones I have for other purposes.

I think I get ideas because I look for them. I examine what happens, what is new, what people say and do, what I read and listen to. I work on getting new ideas.

One place I look is magazines. I get the professional journals of my societies and look at them as soon as they come. I do not read every article, but I “look” at every article to see what is going on. If something new is written about, I may not read it completely but will look at it enough to see that I know what is new—not well enough to do it, but to know that it exists. I subscribe to over 50 magazines and regularly look at another dozen a month at my local public library where I will spend about a half hour a couple of times a month.

Stack of magazines

Some of the publications I read are unexpected for an accountant, and I will mention them here. I will not mention the highbrow publications I also read, such as Harvard Business Review or Strategy+Business (hee hee, I just did) because my motive here is not to impress you, but to share where I get ideas.

I have been reading Advertising Age since I was about 18. I started when I was in college and continued thereafter, especially when I had clients in that industry. I no longer have clients in advertising, but most of my clients advertise and I like to see what’s new. Last month the subscription came up for renewal and I was thinking it was time to stop. I would save the cost and reduce the volume of mail and clutter in my house. The next day the latest issue came and I got three ideas from it. I know it was three ideas because I ripped out three pages with articles that related to things I was working on or interested in. So, the subscription was renewed.

You might wonder what the ideas were, so here they are. I realized from looking at the sales revenues of the largest ad agencies that they are smaller than the sales volume of the largest accounting firms. Actually the largest accounting firm has more revenue than the two largest ad agency groups combined, and there are three other accounting firms about the same size as that accounting firm. I believe most people would guess that advertising is a bigger profession than accounting. I now know they would be wrong and by how much. This is useful information I will present the next time I talk to school groups about our fine and great profession.

Another idea was from an article analyzing the effectiveness of the advertising by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which I found insightful. A third was a listing of the most creative people and why, and comedian Leslie Jones was at the top of the list. There were also vignettes of the other 49 people.

Another magazine I get is Internet Retailer. If you do not know the changes taking place in retail, you probably did a Rip Van Winkle a few years back. A company I never heard of, Zalando.com, did $3.3 billion in web-based sales in 2015 and gets over 930,000 unique monthly visitors. FYI: Nike did $1.5 billion and Nordstrom $2.8 billion. Zalando? I think I need to find out something about them.

Bottom Line Personal is a monthly publication; I have been on their Panel of Experts since its inception 35 years ago. This inexpensive monthly is so chock full of information that you will anticipate the arrival of each new issue. Financial Advisor is a free publication accountants can receive that covers investing models and client and practice management. I always get some ideas from here.

One of the many trade journals I get is Meetings and Conventions. I defy you to read a single issue and not take away at least one idea. Consumer Reports is a must read for anyone that buys anything, i.e. everyone. Typical business and investment publications such as Inc, Entrepreneur, Success, Fortune and Forbes are also must reads.

Magazines I do not subscribe to but go through in the library include Print and Communications Arts—graphics and marketing are where it’s at. I also look at Smithsonian, Art News and American History. There are many others, but I think you get the idea—that’s what it’s about—getting ideas. Ideas cannot be nurtured and bloom in a dark void or comfortable cocoon.

Getting ideas is not like marking off items on a check list:  Get Idea Today.  Get Idea for Bob’s Business Problem.

It is something that just hits and not necessarily when going through the magazine—but sometime afterward. When I have specific issues on my mind and the marriage of an idea with that issue is a mystical experience—it just pops up. But the popping up occurs because I look for the ideas. And you can too. Just follow some of what I do or do something that expands your awareness base. Good luck!

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by www.CPATrendlines.com and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

Edward Mendlowitz

Edward Mendlowitz

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner at WithumSmith+Brown PC CPAs, and the author of 24 books and a twice-a-week blog.