Vera John-Steiner interviewed 70 living geniuses and studied the notebooks of 50 dead ones. What she found was that all of these geniuses built their great ideas over time using sketches and notebooks:
“The one characteristic that all of these creatives shared— whether they were painters, actors, or scientists— was how often they put their early thoughts and inklings out into the world, in sketches, dashed-off phrases and observations, bits of dialogue, and quick prototypes. Instead of arriving in one giant leap, great creations emerged by zigs and zags as their creators engaged over and over again with these externalized images.”
Based on these observations, Eric Barker extracted these five principles:
“Write all your ideas down as early as possible. (It’s no surprise so many of the geniuses kept notebooks.)
Stop discarding half-baked ideas. Those crappy ideas are the good ideas — they just need work.
Don’t think your first idea is the right one. And don’t think it’s perfect as-is.
Give it time. Deadlines don’t make you more creative.
Wrestle with your ideas. Dissect, combine, add, subtract, turn them upside down and shake them. Get ideas colliding.”
Without knowing it, I’ve been following these principles for years. I call it having a “holding tank” for your ideas. Here’s my system:
1) When an idea strikes, I summarize it in a single sentence or sentence fragment. If I’m in the car, I use my trusty voice recorder to record a 5-second snippet, then later type the text into FetchNotes. Otherwise, I access FetchNotes on my phone or laptop and enter the idea directly.
2) If the idea is a blog post, I end up writing it during one of my content creation binges. If it’s a business idea, I create a new page in PBworks and write up the idea.
3) Once an idea is in my holding tank, it tends to mix and collide with other ideas. Follow-up thoughts occur, and I add them to the appropriate PBworks page. I might also add links to relevant information or related resources.
By writing down your ideas, you can let your brain ruminate and enhance them over time. You’re also giving them a chance to intersect with other things you run across.