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How to Make Idea Curation Your Workplace Superpower

Great ideas are everywhere. You can become a hero by curating the best of them instead of reinventing a perfectly good wheel. Here are three ways to get started.

By
Rachel Cooke
5-minute read
Episode #580
curating museum art
The Quick And Dirty

Curation is the talent for seeing the swath of ideas already out there and extracting something fresh from them. Here are three ways to use the power of curation.

  1. Apply an old solution to a new problem
  2. Extract and codify a set of best practices
  3. Create a thoughtful idea collection

We live in a knowledge economy—ideas are the currency of success. They fuel new products, new customer acquisition strategies, and new ways of conducting business. One great idea can make you a hero. And who among us doesn’t aspire to be a hero?

But the thing about ideas is that there's a massive surplus of them. Google darn near anything you can think of and a bare minimum of 100 ideas—articles, products, solutions—will be staring back at you in an instant. In the digital age, anyone and everyone can put their ideas out there in the world. And anyone and everyone does.

So, if having too many ideas is the problem, maybe creating new ideas isn’t the best use of your time and skill. What if we used our critical thinking capabilities to curate them, instead?

What is idea curation?

Imagine an art museum. As you walk through it, you notice and appreciate the paintings and sculptures. The experience you’re having was crafted by a curator: someone whose job wasn’t to produce the art, but rather to group, arrange, and purpose it with intention. Curation is a separate skill that complements creation.

The artist is famous. The curator rarely is. But that doesn’t make the curator less of a hero.

Curation is a powerful yet often undervalued capability. It’s the talent for seeing the swath of ideas already out there and extracting something fresh from them. Spotting themes and patterns, finding new applications for old ideas—these are all real ways of delivering value without creating something new.

The artist may be famous. The curator rarely is. But that doesn’t make the curator less of a hero.

How to curate ideas

So how can you demonstrate curation heroics by repurposing and organizing (rather than producing) ideas to deliver value? Here are some tips.

1. Apply an old solution to a new problem

Agile is a methodology that was developed to streamline and expedite the process of software development. With developers and decision-makers from so many different parts of the company needing to participate in product development, the coordination was often complex, and the process bottlenecked and arduous. The Agile method was designed to overcome these challenges by bringing the right decision-makers together—briefly. outside of their day jobs—to attack the challenges in short coordinated bursts, in turn streamlining the entire process. It worked beautifully.

Old solution repurposed—new idea not necessary. Genius.

So now imagine a different but parallel problem. I once worked with a team tasked with redesigning the new employee onboarding process in a large organization. The project was dragging because decision-makers were distributed throughout the company and focused on their day jobs. But one of the team members was married to a software developer. So she invited her husband into the office one day to teach the team the principles of Agile.

The same method that streamlined software development was utilized in this onboarding redesign. And it had the same effect of producing results quickly! Old solution repurposed—new idea not necessary. Genius.

2. Extract and codify a set of best practices

There are certain things we do again and again at work. Things like running meetings, developing marketing campaigns, preparing client pitches, and more. And yet often we find ourselves reinventing the wheel, always starting with a blank sheet of paper. We want to run a meeting our way. We want our marketing campaign to be wholly unique. And we want to bowl the client over with something they’ve never seen before. Those are all valid intentions. But they don't mean we need to begin with a blank slate.

A strong curator can look across a series of prior client pitches or marketing campaigns that have been successful and identify and extract some of the common elements.

A strong curator can look across a series of prior client pitches or marketing campaigns that have been successful and identify and extract some of the common elements. By documenting some of these common elements—also known as Best Practices—a curator can provide future developers with a strong foundation from which to build. Can you identify the Top 10 questions clients love to hear? The 7 most critical elements of successful customer interactions?

Sometimes the hero isn’t the inventor of the content, but rather a shrewd observer who identified the common elements of success. It’s not always the artist who scores a win. Sometimes it’s the organizer and arranger of the art.

3. Create a thoughtful collection

Imagine you’re striving to establish yourself as an expert in a particular domain. Let's say people analytics, for example. There are plenty of analysts out there leveraging history, data, and predictive analytics to identify trends—both present and future – in the realm of people analytics.

Over the course of reading a dozen articles, you might uncover 50 or more ideas. Can you apply a critical lens to what you’ve read and separate the signal from the noise?

Now imagine you’re an aspiring analyst. You, too, could pull data and review history and identify trends, and produce your own point of view on the matter for the world to consume. Or … you could set upon reading a dozen or so papers, articles, and points of view already articulated, and curate the content for the purpose of producing a thoughtful collection of ideas.

Over the course of reading a dozen articles, you might uncover 50 or more ideas. Can you apply a critical lens to what you’ve read and separate the signal from the noise? What themes did you spot? What seems to apply across industries and geographies? You’ve invested time and energy into reading, reflecting, and synthesizing the ideas of others. So pull together the best of the best (making sure to give credit where credit is due) and let the curated collection be your contribution. Curate thoughtfully. Draw conclusions. You’ll be a hero.

We’ve now discussed three scenarios in which a skilled curator has the opportunity to be the hero, but the list of possibilities is endless. This is not to imply that new ideas are never welcome. After all, imagine if Steve Jobs or Elon Musk had settled exclusively into curation. The key here is to recognize that there is a time and a place for both innovation and curation.

It is generally more efficient to begin any quest with a quick scan of what’s already out there. If something strikes you as useful and “repurposable,” then run with it. But don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. If the solution you’re seeking truly is yet to exist, then by all means, give the world a gift of a new idea!

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.

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