When thinking about ideas, I've discovered a pattern. It goes a bit like this.
Have an idea. Think it's brilliant. Think that it's the most brilliant idea in the world. Wonder why everyone else is so stupid for not thinking of this idea themselves. Then a new idea arrives, and the cycle repeats. Over and over, till at the end of the week, I've gotten nothing done and what I thought was a brilliant idea turned out to be entirely not-memorable.
The thing is, now I know about this pattern, what do I do?
I think I've worked it out. A perfect solution. Well... Perfect for me, at least. The answer is - to pitch it. Try and sell the idea to someone, try and convince someone that what I've come up with is actually of some value. This is my circuit breaker.
Instead of going around and around in circles. Have an idea, think it through, discuss it with someone, and then iterate based on their feedback.
If you pull them apart, every hackathon, ideathon, and design thinking session is a conversation about ideas. Conversations that push and prod for a response till something makes sense.
I love these kinds of programs. There's the nervous tension of being in a room full of strangers. The awkward small talk. And, of course, the sussing out of who's worth teaming up with and who will make a good participant.
Once the awkward stuff is over, these sessions are an environment for epic (and sometimes epically frustrating) conversations to happen. An environment where ideas flourish. Ideas that aren't fully formed, solutions that aren't entirely finished, and problems that aren't fully understood.
It's an environment that I desperately miss being in because it's precisely the kind of place which helps you break mental cycles and make ideas progress.
You'd probably think to yourself, but you just like talking, and this is a fancy way of blowing off work. Part of that is true. But look at the environment we have now. We are all so busy dealing with economic, health, mental or supply chain disasters that there is zero room for talking about what comes next.
Right now, everything is reactionary. And the conversations you have in creative environments - as you find in hackathons, ideathons, or design thinking sessions. Give you the space to consider what happens when you go beyond reactive and dabble in being proactive.
I'm only just realising how much that sounds like an advertisement for toothpaste.
Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that I believe we need to once again seek out and make space for these environments. It's not easy. It's not a priority. It's not something that is "off the shelf" purchasable. But neither is the solution to a problem you don't fully understand yet.
It's true that our problems now are big and dramatic and even geopolitical. But if we don't make space for something else, we risk staying in the same place forever. And that idea sucks because it's 2021, and we still don't have flying DeLoreans or hoverboards - not that I'd know how to use one of those. Maybe in a metaphor...
What do we need to make this happen? Well, since this isn't one of those 'how to be innovative in 2021' speeches that are trying to sell you consulting services... I don't actually know? How to do a creative problem-solving session in 2021? I do know that you probably won't have to look too far to find someone with a fancier title that's more than happy to help.
What I do know is 1) doing anything like this via Zoom would definitely suck. And 2) I know the essential components, which you can read through and then try to apply to your own situation.
- You need a safe space. A room and preferably a whiteboard.
- You need problems. We all have plenty of those but pick issues that don't have an answer to, something you haven't spent time thinking about but know you probably should.
- You need ideas. How to solve those problems. Keeping in mind a better-understood problem makes solving half as difficult. And that many of the 'solutions' you come up with will be garbage, so don't hesitate to churn through the stack when forming your ideas.
- And finally, you need the right people in the room. People to bounce ideas off of and people you can trust enough to give you honest feedback. People that will support an unformed idea and be critical about a bad one.
Add in some friction, easily found with the pressure of time, money, and your customer's expectations. And without looking too far, you've got everything you need to go from saying "what do we do now" to looking ahead and asking "what can we do next".
This is a journey we can all take. It's a risky journey that doesn't have a specific destination when you set off. Sounds like fun to me.