Dont Lose Good Ideas

You have just had a GoodIdea. You have invoked YouArentGonnaNeedIt and decided not to work on it. But you are afraid you might forget the idea and it might be lost forever.

If it's really a GoodIdea, a context requiring it will probably come up someday and you'll remember it. One good thing to do is just move on.

But it's too good to lose, you can't get it out of your mind. OK, then try one of these:

  1. Put a method in the class with nothing but a comment reminding yourself of the idea;
  2. If you keep a ProgrammersNotebook, write it in the current notebook;
  3. Write it on a card and put it wherever you keep your note cards;
  4. Talk with someone about it over lunch or at the next break.
  5. Donate them to the (wiki-) community
  6. Make a WikiPage of it and save it in a OneNoteFolder called GoodIdeas.

Most important, however, is to remember: YouArentGonnaNeedIt. Don't succumb to the temptation to move off-task.

This is also one of the more powerful aspects of CRC-based design. -- JimCoplien

When I was high school, I wrote a lot of pop songs, and then years later, I wanted to find the lyrics. Couldn't find them, not in my old notebooks, not in my old Mac files, nowhere. Frustrating.

I was complaining about this to my friend Johannes, and he gave me a nice ZenSlap about it. Johannes is a working poet; although he has a day job, he spends about six hours a day reading and writing poetry. He told me "Well, if you can't remember it, it probably wasn't that great anyway. Just write it again, and this time it'll probably be better."

Sometimes I wonder if this sort of attitude applies to other things, too. I used to write down every idea I had - non-fiction writing, programming insights, conceptual art projects - thinking I would get to them. Later I realized I was never getting to them, I was just piling up a list of ideas that amounted to nothing. Past a certain point, isn't the idea essentially worthless? Isn't the follow-through much more important?

Do you learn more by preconceiving, or do you learn more by doing?

I don't write down many ideas these days. And I seem to get about as much done. -- FrancisHwang

I HaveThisPattern. I used to think "Oh, I've got all these great ideas, I better write them down so I can come back to them when I'm a grown-up and maybe one will make me rich and famous." Then I realized that IdeasAreCheap?. I get a half dozen new ones every time I walk to class in the morning. Most of those aren't any good.

Now I use my memory as a way to filter out the really good ideas from the sounds-good-at-the-time-but-probably-isn't ones. If it really was a good idea, I'll come back to it when working on some other problem. It'll suddenly be applicable to whatever the topic is at hand, and I'll remember "Oh, this is what I did for my philosophy paper freshman year." Truly good ideas never die. They get reinvented over and over again, often by multiple people, until somebody takes the time to implement them.

I do sometimes write down ideas, however, if I can't get them out of my head. I have ObsessiveCompulsiveDisorder, or so the shrink said, so I tend to get "stuck" on some idea and unable to function until I've followed it through to its conclusion. Writing it down is a way of gaining some sort of closure so I can go work on more important things. -- JonathanTang

Sometimes if we express an idea, someone else picks up on it and does it, an easy way to get things done without doing them yourself. Seems like this is related to a definition I once heard on what "leadership" is. Maybe that should be one of the XPChallenges? another thought - GoodIdeasAreShared? or GoodIdeasDoNotExistAlone?

There are always trade-off's with DontLoseGoodIdeas. Just because it's a good idea doesn't mean it's worth keeping. There's a context that must be considered. Francis gives a good example.

And maybe I can state this more precisely: An idea has weight, and that weight can slow you down. Where did you write down that idea? How are you filing it? If you need a particular idea at a certain time, how much time will it take for you to dig out the details? Is your filing system efficient enough, or do you need to spend more time honing the system?

Ideally, you'd never need to write something down until you were doing it. You'd base your life on ideas that were simple enough that, when they were needed, you could easily remember the gist of them and do some work based on that idea. (Reminds me of ColorForth and its "applications are recompiled as necessary".)

Of course, there may be some domains where this desire for simple, memorable ideas is entirely impractical. I've never done any chemical engineering, for example; maybe chemical engineers really find it useful to write down their ideas, lest they forget vital details. -- francis

What we have in our minds is capable of manipulation, including loss, or difficulties of recovery. So if we have a good or new thought and we would like to remember it easily later, it is well to have a scheme to handle this.

"My theory (based only on personal observation): Ideas in the mind are different from ideas associated and declared in human language. It seems that mental associations we have will change with time and perhaps each time they are brought to mind. How we remember is a result of how we educate ourselves. The depth and persistence of groups of associations and our ability to remember them seems to be trainable. Reuse seems to heighten abilities to remember, perhaps because many more paths are open to the repeated associations and association groupings. So as a result, when we have an insight (a newly discovered mental association group) and do not repeat associations to it, we may lose easy recovery. So we must come up with schemes which allow organized external association via writing. Writing serves many purposes, but one of the most important purposes, it that of endurance. Another is that of de-personalization. What we have in our minds is capable of manipulation, including loss, or difficulties of recovery. So if we have a good or new thought and we would like to remember it easily later, it is well to have a scheme which allows externalization."

-- From website of DonaldNoyes.200810230211

I frequently find myself explaining (excusing) my actions by stating that I am a 'carbon-based, interrupt driven, processor'. Given that I am also most likely a Finite State Machine, I also have limited memory that can be over-flowed. Hence, it is critically important that I have a method of capturing good ideas almost instantaneously, when-ever and where-ever I recognize them. Then I need to be able to index them for subsequent retrieval, and have an efficient method for enhancing them until they become actionable enough that I can initiate actions to implement them. -- HansWobbe

Ahh! A topic after my own heart - knowledge and ideas. KnowledgeManagement has a close sibling, IdeaManagement? or ConceptManagement?. For all the reasons mentioned above, it can be a good idea to record what you're thinking (along with its context) for later consideration.

But there is more to this. People have varying abilities to remember and recall things. Some have a seemingly endless memory and a fabulous ability to index to just about any bit of trivia they've ever encountered. The rest of us, however, don't have unlimited capacity for this.

There is a "currency" of the mind that I will call "attention" (you might want to assign it some kind of "unit" - you might arbitrarily call these "attention units" an AU which is something else, though). There seems to be a finite supply of this currency for any given individual.

Anything you elect to "remember" consumes or annexes an AU which is then unavailable for use in other tasks. The more stuff you commit to memory, the more AU currency you tie up. Eventually you deplete system resources to the point where it's hard to recall stuff ad hoc, and "forgetting" happens more and more frequently.

This process is not to be confused with "knowledge" where understanding or practice has "worn a groove" and you "know" a thing without having to "remember" it.

If you write down things to be remembered, and provide a way to retrieve what you've written, then AU currency is not tied up and there are more system resources available for performance of the task at hand.

I'm not sure I've articulated this well, but the general idea is "don't try to carry it all in your head" but stash it where you won't have to worry about it, even as a background process.

-- GarryHamilton

Real men don't work on new ideas. They create a WikiPage and let others fully develop the idea for them.

Or they drop it at the HalfBakery and let others "finish cooking" the idea. And the "lazyweb" offers something similar - that is, post your idea on a WebLog somewhere and someone will probably do something about it eventually.

(Seriously, I set up my own wiki (open to the internet, not a PIM), and discuss ideas with my friends, if they have the inclination. And cron and gmail work as daily backup.)
From ForgetToFixItLater: 'When I write new code, I have this massive design in my head and I just have to get it all into the machine as quickly as possible, before it leaks out of my ears.'

I remember this fear quite well, but got over it long ago. I used to write down every idea or thought bit as fast as I could (mostly into my ProgrammersNotebook). And I was disappointed by myself, when I thought I had lost an idea. But that's simply not true. You DontLoseGoodIdeas. The structure that brought them stays with you. The ideas are just bubbles on the surface of your experience and knowledge (SelfNote?: I have to stop this cool metaphorical speech mode). Trust your experience. When the situation that brought the idea in the first place arises again, the idea will arise as well. Or better yet, an even better idea will occur due to your more recent experiences. Disclaimer: This is no plea to discard your ProgrammersNotebook. Use it, but don't be bound by it. -- GunnarZarncke

I've had the opposite experience, where it took days (sometimes months) to reconstruct a good idea. Ideas arise from more than just your experience and knowledge; they are also triggered by circumstance, dreams, coincident thoughts, and a number of other things coming together all at once. Often those circumstances will not repeat themselves at your convenience. Possibly, they'll not repeat themselves ever. And, unfortunately, it's quite difficult to evaluate a proposed "better" idea against the original unless you can get them both down on paper and systematically examine the relative pros and cons of each. On the other hand, it isn't too difficult to recognize the slippery ideas... the ones that are trying to escape your mind even as you try desperately to find or build the structure to hold onto them.

"Ideas [...] that are trying to escape your mind even as you try desperately to find or build the structure to hold onto them." I like this image. Mental structures that are in the process of emerging from experience - floating around, patterns developing from dependencies here and there or from vague input like guesses and analogies. I know the feeling of trying to capture them, strengthen them while they are temporary but the feeling is that there is something to them. But these large structures are not the ones I meant above. I meant the little ideas that come and go, those that might or might not fit in a large picture or a small problem. These will re-emerge - or be unimportant. And the large ones cannot be written down in a few words anyway. -- .gz
From former page: MakeNotes

A strategy for FrontBurner? reminders - before you forget a notion, WriteItDown DonaldNoyes.ThinkingOutLoud.20121113

You are wiser than your immediate thinking suggests. Awareness in the moment is concentrated by the survival instincts within you upon the matters at hand. Deep within you is a reservoir of knowledge which you can recall given the stimulus to do it. In what may be called "OriginatingThought", (not necessarily UniversallyOriginal?, but for the individual it may be the first time a thought or notion occurs) a thought process distills mental artifacts into something which may find expression as a phrase, sentence, paragraph, or longer passage. It might be worthwhile enough that it be recorded, notationally ( by writing it down ) audibly, ( by recording it in audio form, or using voice-recognition software to translate the spoken word into the written word ), or diagrammatically. ( by sketching, drawing, or illustrating as an image or series of images )

If you do not have a system or a process for doing this, it might be desirable to begin some sort of organization which will assist you in remembering and following up on such notions as are worthy of further development. Since may who read pages in this wiki are either programmers or those interested in programming, such notations added as remarks in retained, illustrated form in your personal archives can be SignificantlyUseful? in the future. There is a distinction which can be made in the basis for code and the code itself. While coding may be done for an employer and become the employers property, the retained remarks about schemes and structures (architecture) you may devise is about who and what you are and as such becomes part and parcel of your marketable expertise. While the code for a process which allows the recording of artifacts in a proprietary database and system by a user of that system may be proprietary and the property of your employer or contracting agency, the approach and system for creating the code may be highly personal and the result of a lifetime of learning and applying that learning. A system in use which retained, secured, record of your OriginatingThoughts in signed, dated and timed format is and can become one of several ways you can record statement about your IntellectualProperty. It is because you have and can utilize such that you are employable.

This is because you can produce or reproduce skills that can put into motion implementations comprising of an intelligent mix of myriad mental and notational artifacts to create a solution to a problem. The solution, the code, the production artifact is a product which belongs to your employer, but your intellect, your skills, are priceless and you personally retain them, regardless. Software, Languages, OperatingSystems may have property and licensing requirements, but your skill and innovative use of them to solve problems is a property that you own. An author may use words that belong to everyone, but can state them in such a way and in such a form as to make them his own and he can copyright them.


"You are wiser than your immediate thinking suggests."

Actually, probably not. Don't delude yourself. If you are truly capable of original thought and innovation, you've probably been doing it for so long that it's second nature. If you haven't been doing it for all your life, then you're unlikely to have the capacity for it, and no amount of tools will help. Don't waste time -- give up now, and devote your attention to achievable things, like keeping stuff clean or supporting those who are better than you by doing various menial tasks for them.

Readers, please note the term OriginatingThought, this is different from OriginalThought in that the first is currently being exposed to consciousness in an individual and has until then not having been recognized and acknowledged, the second is what someone, somewhere has thought of, and in all of recorded history, no one else has thought of. There is to my knowledge been no book written containing a collection of original thoughts, only books with OriginatingThoughts?. It is of the first this page is encouraging individuals to commit via notation. The collection of these may be thought of as a collection of notions - ideas written with observations about something. This is targetable, achievable and worthwhile. Doing ones best is not a delusional or meaningless endeavour, but should be the target of every optimistic, aware person. One should recognize that "tools", any amount of them are AssistiveTechnology?, aiding a person in shaping things surrounding them. This wiki is one of them, A note pad or recorder is also.

Only original thoughts are of value. OriginatingThoughts are not. I strongly encourage you to let your boss take care of both OriginalThought and OriginatingThought, and concentrate on supporting him/her to the best of your ability. There's a reason he/she is your boss, and that's because he/she is better than you. Don't waste your time pretending to be something you're not!

I consider myself to be my own boss! Since you do not know me, don't say I am pretending.

Also - you don't think for a moment that this is good advice or encouragement, while you might play the spoilers role, you are probably one of those I describe in this page, "who think for themselves, and act accordingly". Do you have a public scheme you can reveal that you use to keep track of your OriginatingThoughts? I guess that you do at least have a private one.

My underlings record my "OriginatingThoughts", as befits their station and mine. Know your place, and keep to it!

Why not use your time in refactoring pages to add, enhance, enable? Why ... " waste your time pretending to be something you're not! "

There's a saying that "there's enormous power in the doing". - More fundamentally, there's even greater power in thinking and that's where any meaningful change takes place. Related
This seems to be mostly identical in spirit to DontLoseGoodIdeas. Can you flesh out the difference or merge? -- GunnarZarncke (see my comment above)

yes - here it is!


EditText of this page (last edited November 15, 2012) or FindPage with title or text search