IDEA CAMP: Week 2 – Idea Refinement

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Intro music “Honey” composed by NC State student Johnathan Coquedaire.

Maria Gallardo-Williams

Podcast (transcript) Week 2 with Dr. Kit Chapman (Falmouth University) author of Superheavy and Racing Green

Intro music “Honey” composed by NC State student Johnathan Coquedaire.

Welcome to the second week of Idea Camp, and thank you so much for your participation in the first week! We are glad to have you with us, working on the ideas that you generated in Week 1 at your own pace, but as part of this summer professional development community. 

Our in-person ideation session last week was quite successful! Thanks to all of you who were able to come and participate. If you weren’t able to attend, we hope that the ideas, printables, and resources that we offered you last week got you inspired to start generating lots of ideas. Remember that ideation is an ongoing process. You might find that now, since you have figured out your own personal ideation conditions, you want to ideate more often. Or ideas might come to you unexpectedly, because your mind is still in ideation mode. Make sure to record those rogue ideas because they might be even better than the ones you came up with before. 

Now that we have spent Week 1 being as creative and free as possible, it comes time to do a little refinement. We knew going in that not all our ideas would be immediately actionable, so this week we have the opportunity to reflect and decide which ones we will be tackling first, which ones can be archived or kept in the back burner a little longer, and which ones might be dropped, if needed. 

I know it might feel a bit hard to take a chopping knife to our precious stack of ideas. However, Dr. Kit Chapman, our podcast guest for this week, reminds us that a finished product is 20% ideation and 80% careful editing. And he should know, for he has published two science bestsellers that bring together ideas from many different fields and make them accessible to all readers. 

Let’s break down the process of idea refinement into small, actionable steps. For each idea that you generated last week, let’s take a minute to consider each one of the following aspects. We have a digital/printable resource that might help to refine each idea (with our thanks to Janet Del Pinal for her graphic design support): 

  1. Communication: Can you articulate this idea in one single, exciting sentence? Imagine that you are going to meet a friend and want to get them to adopt your idea. Or maybe you want to text it to somebody. Or, like Kit said in the podcast, you are rushing into a bar (how very British of you, dashing to the pub with an idea!) and want to get your friends’ attention. What do you say? Is it something you can craft into one sentence? Or are there several sentences required? Maybe this is more than one idea? Take the time to think about it, edit as needed, and only keep working on the idea if you can get it to this format. 

Alternatively, can you draw your idea? Represent it as a flow chart or an equation? Visual aids will be invaluable when it comes time to share your ideas with others. 

  1. Resources: Can you make this happen at this time? There is a word for ideas that are not within our grasp at the moment, we call those dreams. There is nothing wrong with dreaming, and in fact there is a very thin line between dreams and ideas, but at this moment we are looking for ideas that can be put into practice this year. What needs to be put in place to make this idea happen? Do you need help? Who can help you? Do you need time? Do you need money? How can you go about lining up the resources and partners needed to make your idea into a reality? 
  1. Personal Motivation: Will this idea make your life better? For any time investment into an idea to make sense, the idea needs to connect to an ultimate goal, and making our lives better is a very practical and personal goal. A simple idea to improve a process at work might mean less time spent on repetitive tasks and more personal satisfaction. Finishing your dissertation will allow you to graduate and get a job (I can assure you that this particular action made my life much better). Look at your ideas critically and prioritize the ones that will improve your own life. Make it personal. 
  1. Community Motivation: Will this idea make the world better? I know that sounds like a very lofty goal, but you would be surprised how often making your own life better will have a ripple effect and make things better for others. Finding a way to teach a foundational concept that is challenging to your students will free your time to engage them in higher level thinking. Publishing the results of your research will enrich the community of researchers in your topic and well beyond. Ideas that improve the world are easy to sell, and attract partners that can help you achieve them. 
  1. Connection: Does this idea connect with other ideas? There is a very high likelihood that during your ideation process you came up with several ideas around a single theme or process. Once you have been able to reduce each idea to a single kernel, a perfect sentence that encapsulates it, start looking for connections. A string of connected ideas has more value than a single idea, and it might lay the groundwork for transforming the way you approach your work, your teaching, your writing. Where are your ideas trying to take you? 
  1. Detachment: Is it OK to let go of an idea? Yes, it really is. Some ideas are not fully formed, or are not practical at the moment. Maybe this is not the year you will move to Greece to start making artisanal cheese…but that doesn’t mean that you never will. If at any point in this process your idea doesn’t make the cut, don’t feel like you need to delete it or throw it away. This is the time to create a holding space for ideas that are in process. It could be a physical folder or a digital one. I call mine Waiting Place for Fantastic Ideas. You get to name yours!

I know this process might seem daunting, so I would like to suggest that you start by applying it to your favorite idea. Go to a place that inspires you to be productive, and get started with one idea at a time. I find that the activity of Talley Student Union, viewed from the tables on the third floor really gets me in a productive mood. If you need to go do something different, like Kit mentioned in our podcast, there are gaming spaces at the Libraries that might be helpful. Or you can try your hand at making things (from sewing to electronics) at the Makerspaces

Wherever you are in your journey, please know that we want to support you. You can leave us a comment (if you have an NC State id), or we will be following this conversation on Twitter at #NCStateIdeaCamp and you can join us there. Looking forward to hearing from you!


If you are trying to refine writing ideas: Useful Prewriting Strategies

For a business model approach to idea refinement: 7 Ways to Refine your Business Idea

Idea management software (has a free trial version):

Printable of the Week: Template to refine your ideas

Read Kit Chapman’s Superheavy

Inspirational Campus Locations: