Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Capturing ideas


Ideas are the seeds from which all greatness grows. Every book and every company started from the spark of an idea. Ideas come on their own time and in their own way. Those who understand this principle find a sure path to success.

The key to benefiting from ideas is to capture them. You need to write them down in a place where you can review them and use them when the time is right. In his audio book “Capturing Million Dollar Ideas,” Richard Paul Evans recommends keeping and “idea journal” with you at all times so you can capture ideas as they come. This is important because you can never control or predict when ideas will come. He further discusses five things to know about your ideas:

  1. Your life if the sum of your ideas.
  2. Ideas are like butterflies, they come at any time and they appear unannounced, flittering through your mind as if to find capture. Creating a place to capture the ideas seems to attract them, and in greater number. “A discovery is an accident meeting a prepared mind.”
  3. Ideas, no matter how brilliant, have a very short shelf life.
  4. You may not understand how big an idea is until later; some ideas need to age like cheese and wine to come to value. In come cases, you need to grow before you realize just how big a concept is.
  5. Ideas beget other ideas.

Remember, ideas come on their own time. When ideas come to you, write them down.

The Product Management Perspective: Ideas are the fuel for great products. The difficulty for many product managers is capturing ideas and filtering the potentially great ones from the not so good. That topic deserves its own post (or perhaps its own book). The key point here is that you, as the PM, capture the ideas that come to you regardless of the source. The more ideas you capture the more likely you are to get the perfect new product or feature. Many times ideas will seem silly or absolutely unobtainable; write them down anyway. Over time circumstances change, technology improves and opportunities appear that you do not expect. The more ideas you have captured the better prepared you will be to develop your ideas into the next great product.

9 thoughts on “Capturing ideas

  1. Finding a way to capture them when they happen is half the battle, for that I most often use the voice memo feature on my phone. Testing them to destruction is the other half of the challenge.

    The best way to find out if an idea has the power to survive is to share it. I intentionally select people who have different world views than me but who I know have an open mind.

    • I like the idea of using voice memos to capture ideas. The key is that you use something and have it available to capture ideas when they come.

      Your method of selecting people with different world views is perceptive. You always learn more when you are challenged.


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  4. I have about four notebooks. You are better off having just one.

    I go out in search of the novel topic. If I’ve been reading math books, I look for an architecture book. If I’ve been reading business books, I’ll look at biology.

    Last night, I picked up a book on architecture that I’d read before. Reading it again gave rise to some new ideas.

    At times, I force myself to read another book on a topic that I know cold just because there is always something different in another person’s perspective.

    No matter what I’m reading a notebook is ready. If I’m making notes about what I’m reading, or the presentation being made, I write down what it makes me think about, what I’m recalling in addition to the content.

    • David, thanks for your insight. I agree with having just one book. I’ve tried classifying ideas into different books and it didn’t work out very well. There’s something about writing it (an idea) down — regardless of where — that burns it into your mind and makes it available when you need it.

      I also agree with your thoughts around searching out ideas and going back to past sources.


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  6. Years ago, I used the Post-It Note method for capturing ideas. That worked well for awhile, but definitely had its drawbacks: Impossible to sort, certainly untidy, and did not scale. Today, I’m using analog (notebook and paper) and digital (internal Wiki) to capture and keep ideas alive and visible until they can move onto their next destination.

    • Chris, interesting combination (notebook & wiki). Do you ever reconcile the two or do you keep different ideas in each?


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