If you think a good idea is a potential goldmine, you’re going to love the next month on this blog. Starting today, I’m giving my ideas away, from now until June 30.
This is an experiment in how to handle an abundant resource: my crazy, sometimes evil, sometimes fabulous ideas for websites, apps, gadgets and sometimes even things that have absolutely no relationship to the Internet at all.
For years I have produced a remarkable volume of random ideas for products, services, objects, articles, art…whatever. Sometimes these ideas are completely absurd, but a lot of the time I hear, “wow, you should totally do that!”
But ideas are just that: ideas. Turning even a great, simple idea into reality is usually a multi-year, or at least multi-month, proposition. Since I generate ideas at a way faster rate than I can implement them, I’ve long since accepted that most of these ideas are going to go unrealized.
OK, mostly accepted. In fact, some of the app and product ideas that have spewed out of my brain over the years have found their way into my work, either as one-off personal projects, or as inventory — ideas we have played with, and then stockpiled against the day when a client might come along who would need just that very idea. A number of Social Signal projects were, once upon a time, ideas in that stockpile.
Most of the time, however, my ideas spew out and then fade away, or get undertaken by someone else with the same idea. Or worse still, sit on the shelf, where I stare at them wistfully and think someday, I’d like someone to do that.
Ages ago, I had one idea in particular: what if I spent a month giving all my ideas away? It was an idea that appealed to me, but like many of my ideas, it got put on the shelf because it seemed daunting. Wouldn’t it take a lot of effort to blog all my ideas? And aren’t those ideas worth something? Do I really want to give them away?
Yes, I really do. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned from working in open source land, it’s that good things come from giving good things away. I learned that especially from the work we did through open sourcing Social Signal’s I.P.
But the Open SoSi project also taught me that giving away your I.P. can be a lot of work, and can raise challenges you never considered. So I’ve got some ground rules for myself, as I dive into this monthlong experiment:
- I just have to blog the idea — not the details on how I would implement it. Sometimes I’ll have the time and passion to map out some details. Sometimes it may just be a sentence or two.
- My blogging pace will be determined by the pace at which ideas arrive. If I have several ideas in one day, I may blog them all, or spread them out over a couple of days. But if I don’t have any ideas to share, I may go for a few days between posts.
- A lot of ideas come from conversation. When an idea is the product of a collaboration, I’ll ask for my collaborator’s consent before posting. An idea that hits me in conversation with someone else isn’t necessarily a collaboration, however — it’s more like a conversational source of inspiration. In that case, I’ll ask permission before naming the person I was speaking with (so no worries, you won’t be cited as the genius who inspired my STD prevention idea.)
- Ideas that are developed as part of my work with a partner, colleague or client aren’t bloggable, except with client or partner permission. So don’t worry, we can keep talking and brainstorming this month without our conversations turning into blog-fodder.
- Ideas will not be screened for brilliance, originality or ideological purity. Some of my ideas suck: in the interest of transparency, I’m going to share them all, and perhaps something good will come from the losers, too. Some of my ideas may be duplicates: they may be similar to sites or products that are already out there (and which I’d love to hear about). And some of my ideas are truly and deeply evil: ideas that could be used to damage the environment, hurt other people, or make money in scary and creepy ways. Unless I feel like an idea is so evil that I would lose sleep by unleashing it, I’m going to put it out there.
- I can maintain a reserve of up to three ideas that I love too much to put into general circulation. These might be ideas for projects I want to pursue myself, or which I think could turn into future client or partner work, or maybe just want to write about in a more detailed way at a later date. But I can’t hold onto more than three of them, so if I’ve got three ideas on hold and have a fourth that I want to hang onto, I’ve got to release one of the three that I’m already banking.
- I release any ownership claims over the ideas I blog here. Once it’s been blogged, any idea I share is free to a good home. In fact I would love to hear that someone else liked an idea enough to play with it, or write about it, or even build it. If you want to point to my post when you launch the IPO for your billion-dollar company, I promise I will not sue you and say you owe me for my awesome idea. (OK, if you insist…I will be happy to be on your board, or take a consulting contract, or just accept your generous contribution towards my children’s university fund.) But seriously, no strings attached: take these ideas, and enjoy.
Yes, it is kind of scary to imagine giving away all the ideas I generate in the next month. What if this is the month in which I invent the next Facebook, or imagine the next Hunger Games, or generate the next decade worth of Social Signal client possibilities?
What if? What if? That is the anxiety that keeps me — and I suspect many others — from sharing their creativity. We’re so concerned with how to monetize our ideas that we lose sight of the pure joy of imagining. We’re so afraid that someone else will make money from our inspiration that we would rather choke the source of inspiration than share it freely.
My hunch is that idea-sharing is generative: that the more I release my ideas into the world, the more ideas I will have, and the better those ideas will be.
But that’s just an idea. This month, I want to find out how much that idea is worth.