Idea Generation

Coming up with ideas for new projects can be hard. This is especially true when you need ideas for a hackathon. Here are some tips on getting those ideas flowing!

The Act

You should be keeping an Idea Notebook. This can be a physical notebook, which I prefer, or some note taking program on your smart devices. Whatever it is, it should always be with you. You never know when you are going to have a great idea!

This notebook should allow you to express yourself as well as possible. For me, that means lined and dotgrid paper, which the Penny Arcade First Party notebooks provide.

Once you have this, record your ideas all the time. Some people get a nice notebook, then are afraid to write anything in it. Physical and digital pages are cheap. Don’t be afraid to write down your ideas! The more ideas you record, the more ideas you will have. It’s like exercising a muscle.

I have also found that using things like page numbers and category tags on pages works well. You will want to come back to your ideas to modify or delete them.

Here is a scan of one of my idea notebook pages. I annotated it a bit, pointing out the metadata I add to the top of my pages.

The Inspiration

When you are trying to come up with new ideas for projects or approaches, it can be helpful to find different sources of inspiration.

Solving a personal need is the single largest source of my personal idea inspiration. I encounter many frustrations with existing solutions to problems and come up with ideas that they could be better.

Working with new people can be incredibly inspiring. Try to reach out beyond your current team at work. Pair with people in the greater community at meetups or virtually.

Meeting people outside of the industry can open up all kinds of ideas you would have never thought about. Try not to insulate yourself with only friends from the industry.

The Failure

Sometimes you can’t think of anything good and that’s ok! Generating ideas is a process that requires creating connections in your brain. You won’t know ahead of time which connections will turn into awesome ideas. So, your best bet is to create as many connections as possible.

If you aren’t having any luck, sometimes not thinking about anything can allow your mind to work on problems in an asynchronous manner. Try going for a run, sitting outside, or otherwise taking a break from intense conscious thought.

The Success

When you have an idea, what makes it great? The great ideas are those you are excited about. The best ideas are those that you can get others excited about. It’s one of those “you’ll know” moments.

Once you have a great idea, you should test it as soon as possible. This could be talking about it to friends, building a small prototype, or working through the use cases.

Share your methods of idea generation below!