Sometimes I'll come across an interesting finding in my work, or in conversation, and I'll want to share it. But these little snippets of ideas or experiences don't always feel big enough for a whole blog post.
That doesn't mean they're not worth sharing. It just takes a bit more effort to figure out how to make them useful and interesting to readers.
These are four of the most reliable methods I've found for making use of nascent ideas.
Collect related tidbits
One option is to write a post on a theme that involves the thought or discovery you want to share. If it's an interesting finding from your customer feedback, you could write about customer feedback more generally. If it's an idea that came out of brainstorming pricing options for your app, you could write about pricing.
Once you've found a theme that works, you can include other examples or ideas. This might mean your post takes longer to come together because you need more time to keep experimenting, but you could also try talking to your team about experiences they've had before—bringing together different points of view could expand your small finding into something worth writing a whole post about.
Nathan Barry has a great example of this in his post, Seasons. He starts by setting up his theme: seasons, which are a popular approach to podcasting (and obviously TV shows), can also be applied to life.
With the theme set up, Nathan shares some small tidbits from his life where this theme applies. For instance:
From the beginning I had decided to do 30 days of cold showers. A season of cold showers if you will. This wasn’t something I wanted to go on forever. After all, I like warmth and happiness too much.
Committing to 30 days of cold showers was perfect. I was able to push myself, meet my goal, and then go back to enjoying life.
He also covers writing for his blog, publishing books, and creating his own podcast. Each part is small in itself, but by uniting them under one theme Nathan found a way to create a useful blog post.
You could also put together a timeline-style post. For instance, if you notice something interesting now, but you plan to experiment with it or keep tracking it over time, you could take note of any changes or new findings each week or month until you've got enough for a whole blog post. This way your angle can be how your original idea or finding evolved over time, and how you affected that, if you were purposely experimenting with something.
Collect experiences from other people
If you're writing about something other people have talked about often, you can collect quotes from other blog posts, podcasts, interviews, or talks and write a post that looks at different points of view on the same topic.
In other words, you don't need all the answers. Use what you've found or the idea you've had as a starting point for exploring the idea further by sharing the opinions of others.
When I wrote about how to hack your passion for the Crew blog, I started with a thought I'd been mulling over: that figuring out what you love to do is really hard. And it's intimidating to think you have to choose one thing to work on for life.
On its own, there's not much to this thought. I didn't have any answers, just big questions. So I brought in some ideas and opinions from other smart people. Throughout the post I quote Steve Jobs, software developer Katrina Owen, Basecamp CEO Jason Fried, and designer Sean McCabe.
By pulling in opinions from other people on the same topic, I was able to give the reader a well-rounded look at why "do what you love" is bad advice, and what the alternatives are.
It can also be interesting to point out the differences in points of view or experiences. If you've found something works differently in your business, try exploring why it might be different for you compared to what other people have noticed in their experiences. Or if there's a common trend, think about why that might be, and whether there's a bigger lesson to learn that you can share with your readers.
Expand with ideas
Let's say you're working with something concrete—an interesting finding from your experience, data from an experiment you tried, or a trend in customer feedback or behaviour.
You can add your own thoughts and ideas to the concrete tidbit you've got to create a full post worth reading. For instance, you could explore why your experiment turned out this way, or why this particular trend has popped up among your customers.
You could look more deeply into what might be affecting the result. Are there other variables affecting your experiment that you hadn't noticed? Are outside forces affecting your customers' behaviour?
In a recent post on the Signal v. Noise blog, Jason Fried used this approach.
He started with a tidbit:
I was recently speaking to a class at a local university and the topic of valuations came up. One student asked me what our valuation was. I gave her the honest answer: I haven’t a clue.
Jason used this recent experience to kick off a piece that explores the reasons why he doesn't know Basecamp's valuation. He talks about some of his past experiences with investors, and shares his thoughts on the current startup fundraising climate.
You can also explore what your results might mean. If you've experienced something interesting lately, why was it interesting to you? Why has it lingered with you so much that you want to write about it? If there's a trend in your customer data, what could that mean for your customers, and for future business decisions you need to make?
Again, you don't need all the answers—you can have fun with this while exploring the possibilities. Use your post as a thought experiment. You'll probably find your readers are more engaged in a thought experiment where they can posit their own ideas than a how-to post, too, so don't forget to invite discussion.
Use it to develop a product
This option is a bit more work, but can be a lot of fun. Whether you're just working with a rough idea or a concrete finding from an experiment, you could take that little snippet you've got and develop it out into an idea for an entire product, rather than focusing on writing a blog post.
On the one hand, you could create an idea for a product—anywhere from explaining what it is to creating a rough prototype.
On the other hand, you could take this so far as creating a complete product—whether that's a side project to help you explore further, or a product for your business.
Ghost founder John O'Nolan actually did this very thing. He put together mockups to show what Ghost could be, if it existed. The post was so popular John started a Kickstarter campaign, brought Hannah on as co-founder, and created the product for real—created a whole business around it, in fact.
John started with some ideas on the limitations of Wordpress and how it could be improved. He built on those thoughts to share an idea of what a completely new product might look like. And over time, the team at Ghost (including our many open source contributors) have created that very product.
Of course you don't have to go quite that far. Recently I had an idea about what my task manager was missing, and how it could be improved. My mind was whirring, but I didn't see a blog post coming out of those nebulous thoughts.
Instead, I grabbed a pencil and sketched out some ideas of what my ideal replacement task manager would look like, and shared them on Twitter. I didn't set out to build the product, and the idea didn't go any further than a short discussion, but I managed to use those couple of vague tidbits floating around in my head, somehow, rather than dumping them.
I've covered lots of options here, so let's look at them more broadly so you know where to start.
Once you've got a soundbite, a small finding, or an undeveloped thought, you can take four different approaches to developing it further into a full blog post:
1. Write a post on a theme. Include your snippet as one of many that all relate to the overall theme.
2. Write a post including other people's opinions. Collect experiences and ideas from others to flesh out your nascent thought.
3. Use your snippet as a jumping off point. Explore related ideas, hypotheticals, and reason about what your finding means.
4. Use it to develop a product. Turn your finding or idea into a mockup, or even a complete product.
Sometimes it's hard to know what to do with a small idea. But just because you don't have a lot to start with doesn't mean you should give up. I've thrown away too many good ideas just because they didn't have a lot to them.
With a little extra effort, you can use any of these methods to create something worth reading from the tiniest initial spark.
Image credits: Ghost editor via John O'Nolan.