Ideas drive a business like ours. They motivate and infect and infuse us with creativity, with passion, and with interest in what we’re doing. They’re our reprieve from boredom when we’re doing menial tasks, and daydreaming about other things instead. They make showering the most enlightening moments of our lives. Everyone’s got ’em.
In a business, agility with your ideas is crucial. Flexibility to move, to adapt, to see what works and what doesn’t – all of these things are important in the life-cycle of an idea, and especially of an invention workshop. If one idea doesn’t pan out, there are a million others to choose from, and an infinite number of ways to adjust the first one. Some ideas are fun but have no practical value (like our infinite Slinky staircase). Some are practical, but don’t have any sort of wow factor, and these we have to maintain a begrudging respect for as a way to pay the bills, as a way to make the more interesting projects possible.
While we are a young, growing company and we have to protect our revenues to make sure the lights stay on and our pets get fed, we also espouse the idea that ideas don’t readily belong to someone permanently. Creativity flourishes when ideas are given the freedom to exchange freely without too much personal attachment hindering their spread. While we’ve all seen it happen countless times that an idea gets stolen to make a rival product, we know first-hand that making a fully developed product out of an idea is expensive, and hard work! Ideas are just the starting point, but they can be the fuel to sustaining a project from start to finish, and that takes believing in that idea to the point that you’re willing to put your time and energy into doing something with it. If someone is passionate enough to put that kind of effort and resources into your idea, that’s a very high form of compliment, even if it eats into your bottom line.
That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be recognized for their ideas – quite the opposite! Individuals need validation, incentives, rewards, and in some cases, competition, to keep generating or sharing their ideas. Businesses need recognition in the form of monetary compensation to keep forging onward. There needs to be some sort of proof, be it immaterial or material, that the idea is being held in regard by those around you.
Discussion is oftentimes an idea’s best friend. When we internalize an idea, we make it our own and begin to alter it to fit our own unique view of the world. An idea can come from anywhere, be tweaked or enhanced by anyone, and passed around, and it thus becomes the creation of everyone involved with its evolution.
We often have brainstorming sessions to come up with new project ideas and to find new ways to do the existing ones. We put the Idea Box on our website because we wanted, as more than just a contact or feedback form, a place where customers, visitors, and fellow geeks could submit their ideas of things they want to see brought to life, or to send something cool that they just had to share with other people who likes cool ideas. We’ve had some great suggestions and some recurring ones. And there’s no limit to the number of times you can press that submit button (hint, hint)!
Nathan Seidle, the founder of SparkFun, is someone we draw a lot of inspiration from. He wrote a blog post about open source hardware and IP obesity. It’s exactly the kind of thinking we want to embody, to move forward as rapidly and creatively as possible, to build up that culture of sharing and making the world better by finding and taking on those “wouldn’t it be cool if…” musings that people so often have. It’s hard in the early stages of business to be open about your plans or your work when your instinct is to protect it and keep it a secret. But really, we all stand on the shoulders of giants when it comes to our accomplishments and our ideas, and you never know what someone will be able to help you do with your idea if you’re not willing to take the risk and explore it. Bank on other people being too lazy to implement your idea, but not so lazy they’d be unwilling to chip in their two cents in contributing to making your idea better.
So think long, think hard. The world needs your ideas. And there’s no such thing as a finished one.
-John’s thoughts for thinking.