LearnHow to Generate Ideas

Treehouse

Treehouse
writes on March 23, 2011

This is the 3rd post in our Fully Carsonified series where we give you a behind-the-scenes look at how we run our Team. This post focuses on how we generate ideas.
“Ideas are fragile things” , says Jonathan Ive, and we agree! People need encouragement and support in order to grow their ideas and build on them. We’ll probably never know how many great ideas fall by the wayside for want of some basic encouragement.

At Carsonified we try to give people time to be creative. Apart from giving them some valuable headspace every Friday we also like to come together every six months or so to work on a creative project as a team.

We call it Idea Week. It’s a week where we turn off our e-mail, put the phones on voicemail and shut down all other distractions. Then we all get together and come up with one project that we would like to work on together that week. This could be a software application, website or real world object or a combination of all three! We decide.

Idea Week

The week’s schedule is roughly like this:

Monday

  • am: Throw around ideas and decide on what kind of project we’ll work on.
  • pm: Allocate tasks to each team member

Tuesday

  • am: Quick discussion to discuss logistics. Work starts on building the project (design, development, copy writing, marketing, etc)
  • pm: Report on progress

Wednesday

  • am: Whole team working on their individual area of the project
  • pm: Report on progress and tweaks to ensure deadline is met. Announce project to web industry and drum up to pre-launch interest

Thursday

  • am: Final testing and tweaks
  • pm: Launch project
  • evening: Celebrate with a few beers

The Benefits of Idea Week

1) A Change of Scenery for All

It gets you away from your desk and your day-to-day job. A change is good for most of us. Although some people with too much work to do may feel stressed that they are taking a week out from their work, they are usually the people who will most benefit from a a change of scenery.

2) Encourages Team Work

Team work is very important for morale and it also fosters friendships. You may also discover that someone in your team has a talent for something and you had no idea they had it.

3) Pride in Your Work

If you hit the deadline and launch your project on time then the finished project will instill a sense of pride in you and your team. Against the odds, you created something worthwhile in just four days! That’s an achievement.

4) Great PR for You and Your Company

A great by-product of idea week is the PR that the project creates for you and your company. The site that we created in our very first idea week saw over 11,000 visits in a couple of days. That much attention, from nowhere, can only be good.

Results of Idea Week

Hug My Mac

The first time we did ideas week the team decided to create individual, personalized covers for MacBook Pros and iPhones. We then made a website so that people could request them for free.

Mattinator

The product of our second idea week was Matt, which stand for Multi-Account Twitter Tweeting. We shut the site down after one year because we didn’t have time to maintain it.

Brickify

Turning a picture into a brick pattern isn’t the kind of problem we solve every day, but HTML5 technologies made it relatively easy. We use the canvas to load the users image and process the pixels in the image into bricks. We also use the canvas to tile brick images together to form an isometric view of the final production. JQuery helps out with basic manipulation in the UI, and we use Sammy.js and Underscore.js to glue everything together. Check out the code on GitHub.

Brickify made it on to TechCrunch and led to us working with the Black Eyed Peas, which was a lot of fun 🙂

Ways to Foster Good Ideas

  1. Always listen to people’s ideas
  2. Write them down – never judge them there and then
  3. Brainstorm – One person will often refine someone else’s idea into something usable
  4. Give people time to come up with ideas. Maybe a day off?
  5. Ask people to do something that is out of their comfort zone. For example we asked Mike our designer to produce a design for our office space. He’d never done any interior design before but he loved the challenge and the results were amazing.

11 Responses to “How to Generate Ideas”

  1. this is great!! thanks

  2. One other thing we do at our office is to get some of out friends or family from other verticals over to the office when we have an innovation week. And see how they come up with ideas. The best thing is some really interesting ideas come out of it. Developers always think towards the technical side. People outside think more in terms of usability and the functional aspects. Be it baking a cake or baking an app 🙂

  3. Anonymous on March 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm said:

    A whole WEEK with no distractions. Wow. And a productive week at that. What a wonderful way to treat your employees, your business and your ideas. No wonder you guys produce such quality stuff! I love turning off my phone and just doing stuff, uninterrupted, seeing as how I do recall a time when there were no cell phones. Or voice mail. 🙂

  4. I like that your article actually focuses on *doing* something about ideas. The title and preamble had me thinking you were just talking about generating them. My observation is that there is no shortage of ideas — not even a shortage of really *great* ideas. So we don’t need ways to generate ideas… we need ways to generate *time* and *will* to fulfill those ideas. The Idea Week seems like a great start!

    • Thanks Joe 🙂

    • I totally agree that we simply have to make the time tackle the ideas that we come up with. Carsonified, Zurb with their playground, and Viget with Pointless Corp. have shown that this is possible, but most people/agencies are probably more concerned about this not being client billable time, overlooking the great PR that this could be.

  5. Well if that wasn’t a way to inspire creativity & inspiration within your team, i don’t know what will. Again, nice post Ryan. I’m sure you’re getting a fair few job applications as a result of these posts.

  6. What a great approach to come up and foster ideas, thanks for sharing!

    I can definitely vouch for the 2nd tip, “write them down” – it’s really handy to have a central list of ideas somewhere for future projects, products, blog posts, you name it. You can then refer this list next time you’re having one of those “innovator’s block” moments.

    • Anonymous on March 24, 2011 at 4:35 pm said:

      Yes! I’ve learned the hard way (ahem, um, a few times) the cost of not writing stuff down – it gets lost and rarely can I ever get it back. I keep a notebook by my bed, too, because sometimes as I’m winding down for the night, I think of something new or remember something during the day and make sure it gets out of my head and onto paper.

Learning to code can be fun!

Get started today with a free trial and discover why thousands of students are choosing Treehouse to learn about web development, design, and business.

Learn more