Let your ideas brew

A change of context is always a welcome one. At the Future of Web Design conference, the leading lights of the web design world shared their thoughts and expertise to engage and inspire – talks illustrated with beautiful slide decks and a pleasing amount of profanity. For a mind that is constantly juggling the myriad tiny urgent details of day to day programme management, parking the white noise of the day job and listening to people speaking about interesting stuff they really know about was like creative broadband for the mind.

In a talk called Inform to Inspire Steph Troeth spoke about the creative process – putting in the work to provide fertile ground for insight to occur, of the importance of resting the mind to generating ideas, and I found that an image of a teapot came into my head.

For the last nine months I’ve been working on a project (which will be public in a month or so) – latterly with a brilliant team of freelancers. The fact that we all have to do other things to pay the bills means that we pick the idea up, sketch / code / figure stuff out, share what we’ve done, talk about it, change it a bit, and put it down again. We’ve done this many times – gradually editing, smoothing, improving, building a working relationship that I treasure, and a shared understanding of the app – taking little steps that looking back over a period of months have resulted in huge strides.

Steph’s talk reminded me of the importance of giving an idea space to take shape, mature, and grow into a ‘thing’, rather than a delicate, ephemeral concept.

It’s like brewing tea: if you rush it to ‘deliver’ the tea as soon as possible, it’s weak, and chances are you’ll be told to make it again.

let it brew

If you leave the tea to brew too long because you’re afraid that it’s not quite ready, it’ll be stale and the person you made the tea for in the first place has probably gone to the coffee shop.

In their awesome keynote talk at FOWD, the Standardistas talked about James Webb-Young’s ‘five stages’ from his seminal Technique for Producing Ideas:

  1. Gathering raw material
  2. Mastication (or: ‘let it brew’)
  3. Drop everything and walk away
  4. Out of nowhere an idea materializes
  5. The morning after (is it strong enough to stand up in the light of day)

Every day we discover a new tool or technology to help us build our ideas faster and cheaper, and to distribute them globally for next to nothing – but just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Taking time to let an idea develop makes the end result so much more satisfying, like a proper cup of tea after a hard day’s work.

@anthony_lewis