What developers should do when the Idea Fairy visits

Shane Schick

I'm not sure if anyone clips or prints out inspirational things to put above their desks anymore, but at the very least indie developers should consider using this comic as their screensaver:

More than any problems with getting found within an app store, more than struggling to acquire (and keep users), this simple comic highlights a seldom-discussed but very real threat to progress in almost any creative profession: the myth of the better idea. 

How many great apps or mobile games are nearly completed but left abandoned because there is a thought--perhaps only half-formed, but still there--that suggests they would be better off doing something else? It could come from deep within a developer's subconscious, or it could be in response to what seems like the overnight success of a Flappy Bird, a Yo, or even a Kickstarter campaign about potato salad. Or maybe it's the flood of websites, conferences and magazine special features all about generating ever-increasing levels of creativity. Everyone is in the idea business, and app developers cannot be blamed for occasionally succumbing to the notion that their real breakthrough is still just one more project away. 

Of course, as the comic points out, you'll never get far if you keep focusing on ideation vs. execution. One way to tackle this is to increase awareness of what's already out there, like a regular check-in with your favorite app store. The other tactic is simple organization: If more indie developers applied the project management rigor of their counterparts in the enterprise, they might have a better way to create a funnel for innovative apps the same way big companies schedule the creation of products out of their R&D labs. 

Then there's being an active part of the community. Taking a third look at that comic, it shows the classic image of a developer working on a mobile game alone at his computer. Without a VC to pitch your idea to, or even a group of coworkers who can suggest it's better to stick with the app that's nearly done, ideation can be addictive for developers who are largely creating mobile games in their off-hours. Developers who talk to potential users, attend industry events or even check out tools like the recently launched "app industry search engine" from the App Developers Alliance might be better able to delve into the strategic thinking necessary to balance creative impulses. 

The most successful developers--or novelists, musicians or movie directors--think like a business person at the beginning of a project, and the up-front prep work they do ensures they don't get too distracted by something that sounds even better. It's not that mobile game developers should try to banish the Idea Fairy from their lives. They just need to make sure the Idea Fairy doesn't take over the entire operation.--Shane