Got an Idea? Start Coding!

How many times are you being pproached with the question: “Do you know a designer or developer who can help me with an incredible idea?”

I get this question, at least, a few times a year from friends, acquaintances, business contacts and total strangers. The assumption is that with only the help of a designer or developer, an idea will magically come alive.

The truth is most people who are looking for help are not ready for it. And by immediately looking for a developer, they are skipping the important part of developing their idea further.

Just recently I was part of a UX panel at the Silicon Beach Fest here in Los Angeles. One of the questions that came up was:

What would you say to someone who has an excellent idea and just thinks they need a developer to build it?

My short answer was: “Start coding!”

It immediately lead to an engaging discussion: “Kai! How could you!? When you say start coding folks will think you mean what you say!”

In a way, I do mean what I say. When I say “start coding” I want you to start developing and creating. You are the owner of your idea! Start developing it. Develop your idea further before even thinking about bringing on an engineer or designer.

Develop Your Idea Through Writing

Paul Graham wrote a great essay a while back entitled “Writing, Briefly”. It highlights the importance of writing:

Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them.<footer> - Paul Graham, March 2005</footer>

He talks about the importance of using writing as a tool to further develop ideas and to generate new ones. This step is essential to the thought process when developing ideas. If you skip this step, you will never be ready for the next step.

In a sense writing is coding. When you are writing code, you are forced to think about the variables, functions, and details that define a product. By putting your ideas into writing, you are coding, encoding and decoding them.

Ideate, Validate & Iterate

Start by ideating on your idea. Capture as many related ideas as possible in a simple bullet point format. Capture all and any thoughts that come to mind. Especially the crazy ones :) Write fast and think even faster. The goal is to expand on your ideas, no matter how feasible or unfeasible you think they are. No judgment. And don’t worry about the details at this point.

To validate your idea, start talking about it with friends, family, and strangers. Talking publicly about an idea is an essential form of user discovery and validation. Explaining an idea to somebody else will force you to use simple words. Strangers have no emotional bias towards your idea. When you talk about your idea, be very aware of the challenges you encounter. Do they get it? What parts are hard to explain? What is their initial reaction? Listen and learn how people respond.

Take your findings and iterate on your idea. Do rapid iterations, then take a break, revisit, rewrite, and repeat many times over. When you write out your idea, take different approaches. Write out why the idea will succeed. Then take the opposite approach and write out why the idea will fail. By writing it out, you are forced to think through the different scenarios in details.

So next time you have an incredible idea that will change the world, be prepared. By the time you are speaking with the person who will be able to help you get your idea to the next level, you already have gone through a number of product iterations. Good luck!

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