There's an App for That? Actually, Not Yet. Maybe You Just Have to Build It Yourself

How Does Your Organization Handle Idea Management in the Digital Age?

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You're an "idea person," right? You work with "idea people," yes? Then I've got a bunch more questions for you:

How do you and your colleagues come up with ideas? Are your brainstorming sessions usually attached to a particular project, or do you ever do freeform brainstorms? Do you or your colleagues write "ideas memos"? Who reads them? If a good idea isn't attached to a particular project -- if it's not considered "strictly relevant" to the project at hand -- whose job is it to consider whether to act on it and try to implement it?

Credit: Illustration by Kelsey Dake

I've been thinking about how organizations manage the flow of ideas because of my fascination with a Manhattan product-development studio called DE-DE (which stands for design and develop). I first paid a visit to DE-DE last summer -- at the time, it shared space in a tech incubator on the edge of Chinatown -- as it was releasing its first product, a "crowdspeaking platform" called Thunderclap (www.thunderclap.it).

Thunderclap made some news in July because it was briefly banned by Twitter (Twitter's systems for detecting "unusual activity" -- i.e., spam -- were set off before Twitter management really understood what Thunderclap was up to). Thunderclap allows organizations to create a short message they want people to share on Twitter or Facebook, but instead of having each person do it piecemeal at random times, Thunderclap synchronizes things so that everybody automatically sends it out at once at some future, predetermined date and time. The idea is to "allow a single message to be mass-shared, flash-mob style" and thus "rise above the noise of your social networks." Hundreds of companies and organizations -- including the U.N., Human Rights Watch and the Trevor Project -- have used it, along with political and media figures (President Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, etc.).

A few weeks back I visited DE-DEat its current location, a corner of the NoHo headquarters of Droga5. The agency is, of course, a hot indie shop -- it just made Ad Age's annual Agency A-List again -- and it's also the principal backer of DE-DE. When DE-DE's Chinatown lease ran out, Droga5 happened to have some spare space, so DE-DE grabbed it.

So is DE-DE a part of Droga5 -- like an R&D department of some sort? Nope. DE-DE actually has its own separate staff and budget and its own CEO, Hashem Bajwa, the former director of digital strategy at Droga5.

More on that relationship in a moment. But first I'll say that Bajwa showed me some cool new shit -- including Birdseye, an iPad-native app he calls "Flipboard for email," and Pling, a desktop and iOS push-to-talk voice-messenger system -- that got me really excited. Those products launched in the Apple App Store earlier this month; you can check them out via birdseyemail.com and joinpling.com.

I could go on about other DE-DE products that I saw in alpha, but instead I'll circle back to my main point here, which is to encourage you to think about how your organization handles idea management in the digital age.

The standalone DE-DE tech-incubator model is a pretty elaborate approach, which obviously isn't right for every organization. But it's worth noting that Droga5, the mothership that backed DE-DE, isn't a sprawling behemoth with an unlimited budget; it's still a relatively small company with just 300 employees. DE-DE, meanwhile, has 10 designers and developers in New York and works with a network of coders in Warsaw, Buenos Aires and beyond.

Bajwa likens the DE-DE approach to "a Hollywood studio for product development. We executive-produce ideas with talented product directors, take them into beta and to market and, if successful, into their own company." Thunderclap will be the first to leave the nest; it just lined up Series A financing and will soon spin off as a startup with its own CEO.

Basically, I think the idea behind DE-DE -- an idea factory spawned by an idea shop -- is instructive for lots of organizations, but especially media and marketing companies. "The marketing world struggles to build technology and things that grow in value over time," Bajwa told me. "The technology world struggles to understand how to craft narrative about why their product matters to people and how to build distribution to get their product out in the world. We're trying to achieve both together."

Which brings me to one last set of questions:

Where do the good ideas in your organization end up? Where do they go to live? Or where do they go to die?

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