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Keeping track of ideas to let them grow

I have tons of ideas every day. They are often about things that make life easier or improve productivity or efficiency (mostly innovation in processes), sometimes they are products and services ideas too. I try to turn the good ideas into concrete things, but more often than not I forget all about them and that really bothers me.

As much as I have no shame in labeling myself a procrastinator, the big reason why these ideas don’t come to fruition is because they go off my radar. Granted, not all ideas are good, but not all are bad either. But if none of them get a chance to grow, how would I know (yes, I’m a maximizer, so I feel as though they are all potentially good and it’s my fault I don’t do anything about it)?

Self-blame apart, I’ve found that not acting on these ideas happens mostly due to not registering them. Leaving them as passing thoughts is what causes them to perish. They are either forgotten altogether (at least the guilt is gone) or the big insight of the idea is forgotten (“what was this widget sketch idea supposed to accomplish anyway?”).

Capturing an idea is concrete step that helps you shape it and frame it, giving enough boundaries to allow it to grow. It’s like eggs: If the chicken doesn’t sit on its eggs, they won’t hatch. On the other hand, if the chicken is a really busy web professional, she needs a hatcher to handle that for her.

In many ways, the tools that the GTD methodology puts in place do help you keep ideas alive – simply registering something on your “someday/maybe” list may be sufficient, or taking a few moments to do a “mindmap” as part of your “natural planning process”. Truth is, not everyone is a GTD geek and even those of us who are may not use it to the extent that the system is sufficient to keep the dynamics of innovation and idea generation where it needs to be. Moreover, if you want to foster idea generation in a team environment, sharing is a big part of keeping an idea alive and helping it grow (and not all use GTD or want to).

I definitely don’t have a method for dealing with this that is satisfactory to me yet, but during my one-on-ones with my team I hear so many great ideas which get forgotten later on, that I figured something needed to be done. I do need to give credit to Austin for the initial concept. We started a wall for anyone on the team can quickly capture them. The WALLIDEA (kinda becomes /wah-lee-dee/ in my head).

Throw it up and see if it sticks

The goal is twofold: to make it concrete by putting it down to paper, and turn it into a conversation by sharing it with the team. It’s meant to be very quick. Taking the time and putting in the effort to register an idea is the biggest barrier so fast and cheap is #1 priority in this system. If it’s going to eat up your time you are much less likely to do it, so all that’s required is a sheet of paper that contains minimaly:

  • What is it called – Give it a name, or a tagline. Show it off.
  • What does it do? – How it works and/or what problems it solves.
  • What does it look like? – A sketch, behavior flow, napkin drawing, nothing at all.

(It should have a name and date – it helps with communication and when revisiting the idea later the date can hint to wether or not something was a silly idea and doesn’t deserve pursuing).


The premise is that it only takes five minutes – we generally already do spend those 5 minutes just thinking about the idea, so why not actively register your thoughts as they evolve in your head – better yet, why not use the process of registering them to mature your idea faster? The process of preparing it is more important than having it up on the wall. It helps establish the intent. Having it on the wall is a plus, because anyone can check it out and comment on it, or add to it.

We’re still experimenting with the wall (2 weeks old now). Having put just one idea up has already helped me shape it into something more meaningful. And not forgetting about it entirely.


Idealist said,

April 18, 2007 @ 9:30 pm

completely agree on that!
I use to use a kind of wallidea both in my professional environment (it really helps to keep track of those thoughts and share them) and also in the personal life.

…frustrated on how fast an idea flyes away from your mind (and comes back months/years later when you see it in the market) i’ve created a kind of public wallidea… ;) it is called Idealist, and it is a platform for designers and creators to publish and share their creativity and get feedback from the community.

thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Leisa Reichelt said,

April 19, 2007 @ 5:04 am

great idea Liv. I love it.
I think I might section off a bit of the cool wall at work and try this out :)


Livia said,

April 20, 2007 @ 10:58 am

Great – I just got feedback that the wall seems “too finished”. I’m going to try making it a little rougher looking next week. Perhaps with some butcher paper so people can come and write directly on it.

Comments seem to be fixed now. Thanks for letting me know.


Josh said,

April 23, 2007 @ 1:27 pm

Hey. A fantastic idea. We use a similar process—call it flooridea, if you like. Perhaps the wall looked to finished because of the well-designed call-to-action sign. What if you made sign with a sharpie instead, so that it wasn’t so formalized? Way to keep the conversation going!


Livia said,

April 23, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

Thanks Josh, good idea. I like what you did too. I’m converting my signs into hand-written notes.

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