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Idea Surges

Harmonie SpaldingLast Updated: December 1, 2014

A couple of months back, everyone on the Flow team got together in the same room for the first time in our history. While we’re normally happy to distribute our team, we wanted everyone to get together and talk about the future of Flow. Needless to say, it was a big discussion that resulted in plenty of big ideas.

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The most glaring challenge was carrying that momentum forward. We were quick to get the ideas on paper – ahem, in Flow – and spent the next couple months up ‘til now shipping features, and just generally acting on those big ideas.

But I’m making that sound too easy. Dealing with a sudden influx of brand new ideas can be seriously hard, whether it’s during your annual company summit or just your run-of-the-mill brainstorm.

  • Too many cooks in the kitchen – everyone had great ideas, but 25 voices all coming at once from different angles means a high signal to noise ratio.
  • Too many ideas – lots of good ideas got dwarfed by even better ones, which can be tough for those whose ideas get lost in the shuffle.
  • Not enough time – there were plenty of ideas the team loved, but we had to focus on the amazing ones. You don’t want to put too much on your plate and overwhelm the team.

Since we’re board certified Productivity Experts (the University of American Samoa has an excellent program), we didn’t fall victim to any of these. Ok, that’s not true. But we evaluated afterwards, and learned a lot about how we can do things better the next time.

We’ve reached one solid conclusion: ideas for improvement can’t come all at once. Your team needs to have a constant process of ideation, evaluation, and action. Here’s how can we keep the team avoid the dangers of idea surges, while retaining all the good stuff:

  • Spread out your inspiration – make consistent, small efforts at all levels to keep your wheels turning. Regularly read blogs you love, and check out what the competition is up to. Or have your company do several small events as opposed to one big one.
  • Record ideas and evaluate them separately – conversations or chatrooms have a tendency to bury topics due to their low bandwidth. Capture your ideas using tools for developing them. I know of one called Flow.
  • Review old ideas – instead of looking for new ideas, spend time reviewing suggestions you’ve put off. This could mean taking another shot at a much-requested feature, or re-reading feedback.
  • Stay focused – when it comes to improvement, time is always the constraining resource, not ideas. Instead of trying to do too much, pick one or two things that will make the biggest impact now.

Having big idea summits with your team is great for plenty of reasons, but don’t forget that it’s possible to capture great ideas all the time. Go find ‘em.

Do you agree? Are idea surges dangerous, or should they be chased? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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“@flowapp: summits and hackathons cause idea surges that can throw off your focus”