Traditionally, we try and protect our ideas with our lives (a notion reflected in the idea of patents, trademarks and copyrights). Many of us don't have the willpower or drive to take an idea through to execution, but that doesn't mean we don't want to see the products or features we think up. Here's how to give your ideas away to people who actually know how to make them happen.
As Ze Frank points out in this video, ideas are a kind of "brain crack." You sit on your ideas and they torture you because you feel like you'll get around to them some day. These might be as simple as a desired feature in Chrome or as complicated as a new type of home appliance that makes your life easier. As Frank points out, most of us don't get to those ideas and they sit unresolved and unused for the rest of our lives.
Instead of letting your million dollar idea go to waste you can seed those ideas into the world and watch them get executed by someone who actually knows what they're doing. Take, for instance, this article in TechDirt that analyses the curvature of an idea from an internet video to a service. More aptly, Eric Von Hipple's research into innovations created by individuals reveals that innovation often comes from users who want to solve a single problem and aren't interested in profiting from it. After all, patents are expensive and are not usually worth the effort.
Before we move on to where you can leave the seed of your ideas, we have to know how to leave them. Let's start with a few guidelines and rules.
The Guidelines For Giving Away Your Million Dollar Ideas
We all have ideas for things every day, whether it's a new add-on for Firefox, a drastic way to make Dropbox more useful, or the seedling of a story. Ideas are not hard to come by, but time to execute them is. With that in mind, if you want to give your ideas to a person who can make it happen, a few rules and guidelines are good to follow.
- Use the Elevator Pitch: An elevator pitch is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an explanation that lasts no longer than the trip between floors. The idea came from innovators learning how to pitch an idea to a potential investor over the course of an elevator ride and it has since become popular enough to get a contest from MIT. The rules? You have to succinctly, thoughtfully, and carefully explain your brilliant idea in 60 seconds. The same rules apply here. If you're going to pitch an idea into the internet wilderness then keep your basic idea readable within a minute.
- Offer Documentation: Whether you're working with a software idea or a physical object, one way to help people understand the basics of what you're trying to give them is to offer them an instruction manual for a service that doesn't exist. It requires more work than simply stating "I want this to do that", but it helps people envision where you want to take it. This is especially the case with software developers, who may like the idea you're pitching, but don't want to handle the paperwork after they make it.
- Be nice: As we've pointed out before, being a responsible citizen on the internet is a great idea and a good way to get things done. The same goes with pitching ideas. We're going to walk through a few different places to do this, but one key area is forums. Since forums are community-based it's good to know how to handle yourself before you go in and start demanding features.
- Remember the idea isn't yours: One major problem that can come giving ideas away is the power struggle that can ensue over ownership. If you're giving your ideas away for free, remember they aren't yours. They're part of the community.
The basics are pretty simple: keep it short and don't try to take the idea back. Let's take a look at where you can take those ideas. Photo by B Rosen.
Actively Participate In Forums And Online Communities
Forums can be a dumping ground for good ideas and for finding collaborators to work with. It's not possible to run through every single forum for every product ever, but a few forums, especially ones dedicated to open source software, are a great place to leave your ideas where a creative person can find them. Here's a handful of great places where you can often find people to work with on your innovations:
- XDA Developers Forums: This is a great resource if you have an Android or Windows Phone idea.
- Instructables Wanted Section: Instrutables has a large community and part of that is an area where people can request projects.
- Macworld Forums: The developers and community that comment in the Macworld forums are great about helping people find a way to create Mac and iOS apps.
- Gamestorm: If you've ever played a video game, you've probably had an idea for one. Gamestorm is a place to throw those pitch documents to the wind to see if they stick with anyone.
- deviantART: DeviantART is a great resource for artists, but it's also a pretty good place to pitch ideas for any art projects you might have in mind.
Chances are, if you're interested in something, there's a forum or a community built around it. Finding the right place can be tricky, but if you have an idea kicking around in your head you'd like to see happen, they're the best place to go. If you're interested in sharing your idea for a feature for an existing service, most webapps have their own forums with sections for feature requests.
Sign Up For And Give Feedback For Betas
Beta programs exist on nearly every platform for all types of products. Video games often have public and private betas before launch, and many webapps and services do the same thing. When you participate in a beta you can offer your opinions, innovations and improvements to the developers. It's not about creating something new, but it is about getting the features you feel are important into the products you already use and love. Chances are that whatever your favourite service or software is, the developer wants to hear your feedback to make it better.
Most major services offer a beta program of some kind to test out new features. For instance, Dropbox's experimental code section in its forums often trades you storage for your feedback. If you're looking for a specific feature, the API section of the forums is a good place to pitch ideas and see if a developer picks up on it.
How To Legally Pitch Ideas To Corporations
This one might seem counter-intuitive, but complaining can be best way to get an idea across to a big company. Many larger corporations will not accept unsolicited ideas because of legal issues and copyright. In fact, many have landing pages directly dedicated to telling you not to send them ideas. For instance here's Apple's, Nintendo's and Microsoft's. Complaining allows you to slip through the lawyer pretzel and take your issue straight to someone who matters.
Here's what you need to include in your email:
- Keep your communication brief.
- Outline the specific solution you have in mind.
- Provide detail as to how it should work.
It's not always going to make a change at a corporation, but planting that seed of an idea is often the best you can do when working with companies that don't accept unsolicited innovation.
Not every company is worried about legal problems and many have set up specific sections dedicated to receiving unsolicited ideas. General Electric has an entire team dedicated to reading idea submissions from the general public. All you have to do is send you idea pitch to them and someone goes through and decides if it's worth pursuing. Photo by crimsong19.
Release Ideas To The Masses On Social Networks
The simplest way to toss your idea into the world is to do just that -- throw it out there and see what happens. I talked with game developer Adam Atomic to see how game developers might make use of free ideas floating around on the internet. He notes a lot of innovation comes in the creation process rather than the initial idea, but that seed can still be planted. His example shows how this might work:
If you did a tweet about "what if Super Mario could rewind time" no one would even notice. But Braid was still a big deal, because of the way it pursued that idea.
Of course, that's not actually how Braid was created, but the idea is the same. Posting your ideas to your friends and followers puts it out into the world and you never know if it might resonate with someone. Just take a look at the search results on Twitter for "someone should create" to get an idea of how this might work.
Over the course of this article, I talked with a few different creative types to see if they had suggestions and we realised no good central idea drop-off hub exists right now. With that in mind, if anyone wants to make one, the idea is all yours. We would, of course, love to hear about if you take it online. How do you feel about idea dumping?