Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Making Ideas

I'm sitting here, struggling to find a topic to write about. So I decided to write about thinking up ideas! I think coming up with ideas is a skill that, in today's hustle-and-bustle world, is getting lost. Ideas are becoming a premium commodity, with people making idea generation into a career. Here's my take on making ideas, and why it's becoming even more important to make sure that you are able to come up with ideas when you need them.

Probably the thing I hear the most from others about idea generation is this:

"I can't just sit down and make up ideas, I need to let them come to me. Chasing ideas will just scare them away"

Most people agree, nod their heads, and move on with their day, waiting for that one great idea to descend from the heavens and solve their current problem. And more often than not, the clouds do not open and no ancient knowledge is bestowed upon them and the day becomes just another day where you struggle to solve a particular problem and end up with a decent solution to it.

But you're not a decent developer, you're a superstar! You need superstar ideas to go with your superstar skills. And superstar ideas are never generated in middle-of-the-road conditions. As master of your own destiny, it is your responsibility to make those conditions a reality. If they already are your reality, then you can always do better. Perhaps you just need a superstar idea to help create superstar conditions. Yes, that's it! I'll just think of a great idea and that will start the ball rolling, right? You probably hate me right now, and I'm fine with that. I would encourage you to keep reading, though, and bear with my catch-22 jerk opinions for just a little bit longer...

In my experience, ideas are hardly ever one big package. If there's one thing I am learning, it's that the small stuff is where the action's at, and it's important to listen to the little ideas as much as the big ones. Big ideas are really a collection of small ideas, so start small and move up. Starting small is easier than starting big, too. Small ideas come from small things, so let's figure out how to find the small ideas. It's easier than you think!

As a developer, when I find a problem, I hit Google. I will search and try to find the solution I want. However, sometimes the stuff I find isn't what I want, so it's time to make my own. My first thought is always "I know the solution that exists inside the box, but I want a solution that's outside of the box". I come up with 3 or 4 things that would be better than the in-the-box solution, then I sit down and think. I just think. Sometimes 5 minutes, sometimes 30. But I just sit and think, and most importantly:

I dream

I dream of classes and how I might structure them. I dream of features that would make my life easier, I dream of things that would "wow" my client. I think up ways to implement my new feature, and how it would fit in with the rest of my application. I dream of what I could change in the rest of the app to make this task easier. I dream all this up, and then I decideI don't always pick my own solutions. Sometimes, I go back to Google and keep searching for a solution. Sometimes I use a hybrid of Internet code and my own. Sometimes I just put that task in limbo and move on, waiting for later so I can think about the solution. But I always try to make a decision within a decent amount of time. After a couple of hours dreaming and thinking, there isn't a whole lot that can happen to influence your decision. You gotta move on it and prevent that task from becoming a constant reminder of something you really should tackle.

Of course, there are obstacles. I find my biggest one is fear. I get scared to try something new, or to attempt my own solution. Sometimes I find myself scared of changing something for fear of breaking something else. Every once in a while, I get scared of investing time and coming up with nothing. But I can tell you one thing: None of these fears get things finished. So tackle them and move on.

More often than not, you need to overcome an obstacle that isn't in you. But these obstacles are overcome in what some might consider an anti-climactic way: dreaming up solutions. Dream up the fixes to the problems that prevent you from dreaming. This is really just as simple as asking:

"If I could change one thing about my immediate surroundings to make myself more comfortable and therefore conducive to dreaming, what would that be?"

Of course, easier said than done, but we just apply the concept we learned before, and that is to remember that big steps are really just small steps that complement each other. In other words, think of something small you can do right now and do it. Turn on some music, or stand up, or sit down, or go running, or dress up like a clown go shopping. The more you enjoy it, the better it probably is.

Once you get this process down, you'll find you imagine bigger and better things. You imagination muscle will be getting bigger and bigger. Fancier solutions, more elaborate features, even more cool components. On and on you need to go. Keep dreaming. Dream of solutions to problems that aren't related to development. Think up solutions to other people's problems. Think up solutions to problems you know you're never going to solve. Think up elaborate solutions to simple problems. The point?

Keep dreaming. Never stop.

Some day, you'll wake up and realize that you are a factory of great ideas. They flow from you, and you almost dream without effort. Every idea you have is steeped in the same tea that makes the rest of your ideas great ones, made of other great ideas to make something greater than the sum. They will interconnect. You will start to see opportunities and have ideas that include several of the skills you possess, development-related or not.

And that's when you will realize that you have superstar ideas, worthy of your superstar talents. And superstars tend to gravitate together, bringing you together with other superstars with other superstar talents and their superstar ideas. And if you thought it was great to take great ideas to make superstar ideas, imagine taking superstar ideas to make... well, ultra-superstar ideas! Those fit together like Power Rangers to make something that stretches minds and changes the world.

Still mad at me for the catch-22 stuff? The same catch-22 that will trap you will make you the best.

Have fun dreaming!


  1. I'd just like to point out that it wasn't the Power Rangers themselves that fit together but rather large machines they piloted called Zords.
    But other than that, great post, I liked the part about dreams.

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