Idea generation, capture, and organization is a major part of any business. As you might assume every business does this differently as well. I have had a couple different experiences with idea generation.
Sometimes you just start kicking around an idea with friends. It’s fast, its mostly talk. In the end though you will be the one making this thing. There is no need to communicated anything, with anyone. It can be fun, but it’s hard to get an idea on it’s legs, and you are prone to not getting any feedback. Going down a long tunnel before you see daylight can happen quickly, and you end up with a lot of work, and nothing to show for it.
Yahoo, and possibly other large companies, have another method of idea capture. Ideas were okay, but only if they fit into your box. Ideas across the full spectrum were for someone else. It might sound like the responsibility for cross-product communication was somewhere up the chain, but in reality I had no idea where my projects came from. I had this murky understanding that they were usually reactions to market, and that we needed to get it out fast. To be fair, because of that murkiness, you supposedly could do almost anything you wanted. It comes with a catch though you need to convince some one with power to back your idea. We programmers had ideas, and would talk about it often, but there was no capture, because no one was listening. The most recent way has been at a startup. One goal of mine is to try, and understand why companies change as they grow. I really want to understand if it’s possibly to combine the power of startups with large companies. The idea generation thing has been an interesting part of my new job. At first, I just listened. I wanted to make sure I understood how things worked, what was the flow. After awhile I realized that idea generation was organic, ideas would bubble up any time. Sometimes they would get posted to IRC, or just mentioned out loud. Some ideas would be said out loud, and receive no response, others would receive, an oh yea we should do that.
This part of the equation isn’t all that different from the lone wolf experience, except for one crucial part. You have a room filled with people who can make things. Even though these ideas are just bubbling up, and flowing into the world, that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting captured. It just means we are all marinating. Sometimes idea come fourth, are talked about and executed in a matter of hours, or days. Sometimes it can take weeks to get back around because of other pressing matters. It works though.
Here though is the sticking point. I am not sure how well this will scale, I don’t think it can. I could be wrong, it would be wrong to bet the farm on this assumption. I think the point here is that there should be like and idea log. The log metaphorical, but can be instituted as software, you can use a bug tracker, you could use a piece of paper, or a white board. The biggest idea I think is to expose everyone to all the ideas, eventually you will need a curator, but not to limit what can be seen but to group.
Another caveat is communication, in the first two situations it’s not really important. In big companies it’s important to document what you have done, but communication is structural thing, not a p2p thing. In the latter, communication is incredibly important, not just documentation but making sure everyone is informed, that way everyone can give feedback too.