How do ideas grow?
In order to grow my idea growing app, I need to figure out what the right way is to look at growing ideas. I’ll share some perspectives how ideas grow.
This article is part of a series of articles on growing Idea Growr.
Turning your idea into something valuable feels great. So supporting people growing their ideas is probably a worthy endeavor too. Such a tool, won’t just make the creators happy, it might enable the world to innovate itself out of some nasty problems.
But what is the essence of how ideas growr? Every time I had a neat way to structure my thoughts, it felt like I was leaving out something important. This struggle also takes part in growing ideas themselves. There are so many ways to look at a problem, what’s the right way?
My way of dealing with this struggle is to embrace that there is not a single right way of looking at things. By slicing a problem in different perspectives and internalizing them, I can overlay all those perspectives to form a single holistic understanding.
The obvious downside is that it requires a lot of time and work. But learning is actually quite fun, so I’ll roll with it.
Each perspectives highlights different aspects and takes into account different dimensions. For instance, buying an ice-cream can be viewed as a transaction influencing your bank account, but also as a way to have fun.
There is no right perspective in itself, although some perspectives are more relevant for the challenge at hand. It can be a fruitful exercise to focus on one in a brainstorm. This might lead you to come up with a 1.000 dollar ice-cream.
In this article I’ll provide multiple perspectives to growing ideas:
- The actions it takes.
- Like launching a rocket.
- Iterating between open and closed thinking
I’ll provide them and hopefully a deeper understanding can start to form.
The actions it takes
Idea Growr started out based on two simple use cases:
- You are almost asleep (at work) and an idea pops up and you need to quickly jot it down so you can go back to sleep.
- On a Sunday afternoon you have some spare time, you go over your ideas and try to improve on them.
This leaves you with a collection of ideas with potential. What more should be done to turn them into projects? I made this chart to try to capture all those things.
Making a chart like this allowed me to see this perspective more clearly. It seems it could serve as a roadmap or tech-tree of sorts. Making it easier to figure out where to focus on when. Also a chart like this is ‘forces’ someone to take the same perspective as you do, before discussing something.
Did it capture the essence? Well, it doesn’t cover everything. It covers what you do, but not how an idea progresses. So let’s take a look at that.
Like launching a rocket
You could say an idea goes to a journey to become a real project.
Taking the metaphor of a rocket launch, I defined these steps.
- Ignition: A thought forms around a topic/problem
- Lift-off: An idea is formed, something you can share and reflect on.
- MaxQ: Maximum dynamic pressure. You received so much feedback, a concept starts to form that is well thought through.
- In orbit: Your have set up a pilot project that will test your concept in reality.
The fun thing about metaphors is that it highlights different aspects. In general the rocketry highlights glorious progress, but also the risk of spectacular failure.
Ignition as a starting point makes sense, but what constitutes ‘maximum dynamic pressure’ for idea growing? At what stage is the risk of blowing up the biggest? That might be the most important question to ask when designing Idea Growr. What are the boundaries that end up destroying peoples progress with their ideas?
Iterating between open and closed thinking
I don’t think creativity is hard. For almost all people its about taking the time to take your thinking seriously. Or not to take it too serious. So what state of mind is required? A well known model of looking at creativity is to see it as alternating between diverging and converging thoughts.
When diverging, you need a different state of mind. When you are trying to generate fresh perspectives on the problem at hand, you must allow your brain to wander a little. Silly thoughts are allowed. Then when it’s time to get productive, you analyze and converge. This requires a more serious, purposeful mode of thinking.
John Cleese has this brilliant presentation on the conditions of creativity:
For designing an improved Idea Growr these states of mind need to be taken into account. For instance, what is the state of mind regarding asking for feedback? Asking for feedback is hard. It’s difficult to explain your idea, knowing it’s not ‘good enough’ yet. Also, when the idea is not fully formed, it’s harder to provide helpful feedback.
Perhaps Idea Growr can support this process. For instance by suggesting a feedback form based on the stage (and content) of the idea.
So if it’s a brand new idea with little substance, a more open or silly questions can be asked. Like ‘What would make this idea awesome for you mother?’. When you are very close to a real project and perhaps need funding, a different type of question might be required. For instance ‘How much time do you think this feature would save you on a daily basis?’
It’s the thought that counts
There are always more perspectives. How about looking at innovation like a branching of probability streams? Where you choose your efforts based on what yields the most impact. This takes the perspective that ideas grow into an abstract space of potential, but I digress..
Writing articles forces me to do some deeper thinking. I hope you find some value in them too!