Where do ideas come from?

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Where do ideas for blog posts, columns, videos – anything creative really – come from?

The short answer: Anywhere.

That’s probably not very helpful, so let me expand on that.

It’s important to keep an open mind, listen, and to some level, keep thinking about experiences.

A good rule of thumb: If you catch yourself wanting to talk about something it might be worth blogging about.

I’ve worked as a newspaper writer, video producer and communicator for about 13 years and ideas for news articles, video projects and web/blog posts have come from just about anywhere: A person’s comment in passing, an eye-catching headline, something said by my kid or even some thoughts – that appeared random at first.

A lot of times it comes down to listening to the environment.

Sometimes words spoken by somebody else – even if out of context – can trigger an idea. For example, somebody the other day said: “I’m working with so and so on a plan.” The word plan triggered my thought that “Any plan is only as good as the people executing it.” Now, in that case I did end up tweeting something related to this:

But I could have done and might still do a number of other things with that thought. I could write several blog posts:

  • How to come up with a 30,000-foot idea.
  • How to break that idea down into manageable and doable pieces.
  • How to define what roles are needed.
  • How to define what technology is needed.
  • Etc.

Many ideas can be built upon and can produce additional or related – sometimes barely related – articles or blog posts.

I’ve gotten ideas in many places. Some of those include:

  • At a security checkpoint: Officers talked about the strange things they confiscate. That turned into a story on that topic for The Gazette where I worked as a public safety writer.
  • A conversation in a coffee shop: A friendly conversation turned into a video project.
  • A chat in the lunchroom about the Academy Awards: This turned into an Academy Award-style volunteer recognition event. You can view the video from this event here on the United Way of East Central Iowa site.
  • Conversations, just about everywhere: For example, I was at an event and said “Hello” to somebody I only knew from Twitter. That started a conversation with the rest of the group about how social media and offline connect. I later blogged about the connection.
  • In meetings. One time, somebody mentioned a fact about a program. I listened and knew it was worth mentioning online. Not a blog post per se, but this fact came out from an quick comment: United Way of East Central Iowa 2-1-1 answers “your calls to United Way 2-1-1 on average in 23 seconds. We don’t make you wait.” Since then it has been Facebooked, Tweeted and highlighted on this page. It could easily be turned into a deeper blog post.

Ideas don’t always appear the moment they are mentioned. Sometimes they crystallize at 3 a.m. the next morning. Something somebody said or that you read somewhere connects and the idea is born.

I do think the key is to keep an open mind, listen to the environment and then translate experiences, partial experiences or a combination into a blog post or other creative project.

Can We Blog About Everything, Though?

Of course, not. I typically save ideas as drafts on the blog and often have 20-30 draft posts. Some are half written. Some are just a headline with an idea.

How do I decide which ones to get to? I tie them into business goals. What? This blog isn’t a business… That’s true, it’s not per se, but ultimately I want this blog to have a purpose. It’s not just my personal diary.

My “business” goals for the blog:

Share thoughts around communication, technology and authentic storytelling cultures to help advance the art of storytelling, marketing and to build community.

In other words, if a thought has something to do with communication issues (how would you say that? for example), technology (what technology might work for a specific project?) and how to tell stories (this post, for example) I will probably blog about it. As long as I can find the time.