Have you ever gotten a really great idea – one that you knew would solve a problem, but when you went to apply it, you couldn’t remember the idea? Have you ever read a book and then six months later needed some information or an idea from it, but can’t recall which book or exactly what the concept was?
I’ve found that people collect just about anything from McDonald’s Happy Meal toys to rare coins to cars. Ebay was founded because the creator wanted to make it easier to buy and sell collectable Pez dispensers.
While I collect tractors, both life size antique tractors and toys, I also collect something much more applicable to my personal and professional growth. I collect ideas.
Ideas are the lifeblood of improvement in any area of our life. But we can’t always implement the ideas we get the minute we get them – and sometimes these strokes of genius get misplaced or lost in our minds.
Any collector knows they need a place to store the things they collect. Idea collectors are no different. I collect ideas in several places and have tried various approaches over the years. I now have two major collection locations.
A journal. I keep my journal near me most of the time. I have tried big books, small books, and used to try to capture ideas in my Day planner. For me I have found that a relatively small book is the answer. Experiment with form and type of journal, but make it something that you use frequently. When the form becomes comfortable for your style you will keep it with you and collect more ideas.
Computer documents. I have a Journal folder on my computer with a variety of files inside it. Each file is a journal or clip file in a particular area of my life. For example, I keep story ideas for writing, speaking and training in one folder, leadership ideas in another, etc. These files act as a place for me to cut and paste ideas I read online and in emails. While I always capture the source, so that if I want to use directly I can reference the author, often these files are referenced for additional ideas, not the specifics of what was saved there.
Note: I used to keep idea folders in a file drawer. I have found that I was usually filing a whole article for one nugget. Now I discipline myself to put that nugget in my journal and delete the rest! And since I do more and more of my reading online, my computer files serves as a replacement for the file drawer.
Here are seven strategies to collect your ideas for use when you need them most.
Write them down! I carry note cards so I can jot down an idea anytime. I write ideas on a flip chart or a whiteboard. I know that ideas are fleeting, so I get them down.
Make lists. Do specific brainstorming on a topic, project or program to boost your collection. Capture all of the ideas. When doing this personally, I don’t cross any off when I find them impractical. By leaving them on my list I have the chance to spur other ideas when I reread or review the list.
Hold a meeting. Every Friday in our office we have a learning and idea meeting where we review the key concepts we have read and the ideas we have generated for the week. By having a scheduled meeting we generate more ideas that may have application to our work, but it also keeps us focused on generating or finding great ideas.
Keep notes from reading. When reading any book (especially non-fiction) capture ideas you get when reading. Jot notes in the margins, use your highlighter. Then go back and transfer the gems to your journal. That extra effort will exponentially increase the value you receive from reading the book.
Keep notes in meetings. When I am in meetings or a participant in a training session, I am always searching for ideas. This keeps my mind sharp. I continually ask, “How could I use this?” and put those ideas in my notes. I always draw a little light bulb on the page to help me separate out the ideas from the notes. I also find this process keeps me more focused on the meeting or training as I know I haven’t lost the idea and I can stay more focused on the topic at hand.
Refer back to them. Review your idea lists. You never know when one of those ideas you wrote down will have application. This is one of the reasons for collecting them in the first place!
Take action. The collection becomes valuable to the degree that you try some of your ideas out. Set a timeline, make a plan, and try something out! It is with this final step that your ideas truly become valuable to you.
You won’t apply every idea you capture and not every idea you capture will be good. Cast your net wide and collect as many as you can in as many ways as you can. While you will never be able to display your ideas on the wall of your home, your collection and the results gained from application of selected parts of your collection will be among your most prized possessions. Get started now – a happier more productive future awaits.
Copyright 2007 All Rights Reserved, Kevin Eikenberry and The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Kevin is Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (http://KevinEikenberry.com), a learning consulting company that helps Clients reach their potential through a variety of training, consulting and speaking services.