Capturing Innovative Ideas


Has a new idea ever woken you up at 3:00 AM in the morning? Maybe the seeds of inspiration were planted in a meeting or conversation you had earlier in the day. You might not have even be aware that the idea was gestating somewhere in the back corners of your mind. Then suddenly, at the most inopportune time, boom. Full blossom. The idea hits you in the middle of the night before your big meeting and now you can’t get back to sleep.

This is a regularly occurring event for me and it is very exhausting. Many of the systems and products that are an integral part of my department have been the result of my insomnia. For the sake of those I work with (because I get a little grumpy when I am tired), I have had to develop idea capturing systems. In doing so I have been able to accomplish two things:

  1. Relieve the stress of having to try and remember the idea.
  2. Capture and transform the idea into an innovative system, solution, or product.

The drive home

There are so many distractions that happen during our work day that prevent us from having innovative ideas. Phone calls, email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, text messages, and the unannounced co-worker are constantly demanding our full time attention.

This is why I love the drive home. It is a thirty minute window of silence where my mind is free to wander.  This helps with the formation of ideas because I am not inhibited by trying to translate them to paper. But if I don’t capture them by writing them down, they usually fly on by in the wind.

So I talk to myself. Not figuratively, but literally. Using my Bluetooth, I will call my work phone and leave myself a message. I don’t worry about articulating it well or sounding professional. I just ramble. By the time I get into work the next morning, I often have two or three of these long winded messages waiting for me. Many get deleted because they make no sense, but many have been adopted by my team in one form or another.

Capturing the idea

There are plenty of other times during the day that either I or one of my co-workers has a great idea. Below are few of the methods I use to capture these ideas:

  1. Voicemail to email. Many phone carriers offer this feature as part of their service package. An email with an audio attachment of your message is sent to you. Great way to store your idea.
  2. Camera phone. I take pictures of everything. White boards during meetings, products I see on the jobsite, and notes I take on random pieces of paper.
  3. Email. After I have taken the picture, I always email it to myself so that it does not get lost in my picture roll. Emails from my phone are also how I get that idea out of my head at 3:00 AM and go back to sleep.

Making the idea stick

So we grabbed that idea out of the wind and physically captured it. The problem is that once you start accumulating these ideas, they begin to pile up. We need a way to store and prioritize them. There are a few products that I use for this purpose.

  1. Microsoft OneNote is currently my preferred tool for storing & organizing my ideas. I really like this tool because it is so robust. I store meeting notes, projects, to do lists, and collaboration tasks with my coworkers.
  2. Google Keep is an alternative tool that comes with any Gmail account. You can create notes, to do lists, and add pictures. If you install the app on your phone then you can access your lists right there and upload your pictures as well.
  3. I stumbled on earlier this week. Signed up and got my free log in the same day. I have just started playing around with the application, but it seems like a really great tool. Arranges your ideas in a workflow like diagram so you are able to plan beyond the initial concept.

What ways do you capture your innovative ideas and how do you manage them? I would really like to know in the comments below.

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