Chasing Ideas With A Butterfly Net

startups design Feb 07, 2020

Is progress dependent on ideas?  I think so.  

However, in another one of life’s many inequities, some people seem to have an abundance of thoughts on better ways of doing things while others struggle with anything creative.

For some people, myself included, ideas seem to be like butterflies in an open field; they are attractive but difficult to approach and impossible to capture.  When I was a youngster, I would chase butterflies behind our country house.  It was crazy difficult to sneak up on them and in the rare instance that one could be cupped in hand the brutal act would often destroy the fragile creature.

A butterfly net changed everything.  With it, I could capture butterflies with ease, examine them and release them back into the air.  No longer was I fruitlessly turning in circles trying to put my hands around something captivating but elusive.

Those of us who struggle with ideation need a butterfly net for business ideas.  I read a blog post years ago from James Altucher that sparked a process for capturing ideas with a metaphorical net.

When faced with the need to be generative, I use an idea journal.  I simply write down ideas in the area of interest.  Old fashioned paper and pencil works fine but a mobile appliance with the ability to record notes or voice is ideal.  Thoughts sometimes arrive without a proximal catalyst and often at inconvenient times.  And like a beautiful butterfly, you don’t want them to get away.  

Simple.  Right?  . . . Unfortunately not.

For me to get the most from the process, I must write down at least one idea every day and not judge the quality of the idea in near real time.  Both of these steps are more difficult than they may appear.  

Identifying an idea EVERY DAY can become arduous but it’s an important part of the process.  Everyone rejoices over the ideas that present without much conscious thought but there is another group of ideas that require work - tortuous and exhaustive deliberate effort.  The best way to make this happen is to honor your self-commitment to identify an idea every single day.   Some days require the calorie burn of focused attention - but you must stay with it until a unique and potential useful generative idea is identified.  In this way, you can squeeze out thoughts buried in the deep recessive of your mind.

Obviously not all ideas are equally strong.  Some are simply better at producing desired outcomes than others.  A few are pure gold, others are described by my friend, Keith McFarland, as a squirt of lemon juice in the eye and unfortunately some have the nutritional content of cotton candy.

Here is the important part: wait to evaluate and stack your thoughts.  Ideas are best batch processed well after they are recorded. Real time examination of your ideas invokes the mental inner judge that is harsh and exclusive.  Ideation requires a space that is kind and inclusive.  So don’t sort your ideas until a few weeks (at least) have passed between their creation and examination.  I find it convenient to simply keep a separate accounting of ideas that seem to be in the top decile, but leave the discarded ideas in their original form.  Importantly, don't delete anything.  Sometimes a read through old idea content leads to new thoughts or the recognition of hidden value in a prior idea.  

At Ravn, we speak to many people with business ideas.  Innovators seaking to introduce positive change that need custom software to enable their endeavor.  Perhaps my suggestions will help you to identify a larger decision set of wonderful and powerful ideas.  I hope so and look forward to speaking with you about them.

David Haynes

Partner @ Ravn