Idea File: Give your ideas away for free

The idea

Some items people commonly collect include antiques, comic books, bobbleheads, shotglasses, and more. Kevin Boyle and Rick Horan collect ideas.

They stand in places like NYC’s High Line or Times Square with a large sign and ask people to share their ideas, some of which they post on their website or talk about in a podcast. They’ve heard it all: from tax returns that allow you to choose where your tax dollars are spent to a health rating for nail salons to making South America the largest rollerblading rink in the world. Some people even sing to them.

The idea came to Kevin after reading about blogger Andrew Dubber’s project to give 30 ideas in 30 days away for free.


Kevin Boyle and Rick Horan. (Photo via Ideas Improv.)

“His rationale was, If I’m not going to do anything with these ideas, maybe someone else will,” Kevin says. “I started thinking about tweaking and expanding his idea and taking it to a much broader level. Instead of one guy doing it why not ask everyone?”

From solar energy to healthcare to education, most ideas they hear are for the common good.

“Our Ideas Wanted project is all about engagement. And there seems to be a yearning for good old conversation. Sharing ideas seems to us as the ideal way to open up organizations to new people and new ideas,” Kevin says.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Ideas for the sake of ideas. Ideas are inherently valuable and (most times) worth pursuing. Just giving someone the opportunity to say their idea aloud might help get them, or someone else, motivated to act on it.
  • Encourages unlikely connections. So far the duo has met people from 26 countries and counting. “The ideas we get are often great but without a doubt it’s the people we’ve met. I mean the smart, funny, curious, and generous folks we’ve come across has made the whole project worthwhile,” Kevin says.
  • Makes a case for not reinventing the wheel. Kevin and Rick have found that a lot of ideas aren’t new, and most are similar to one another. It’s a good reason to see what’s out there being done already, and connect with someone else first before starting from scratch.

How you can replicate it

Since the project launched last September, Kevin and Rick have taken their signs across the country from Miami to Seattle. They’d love nothing more than to go to all 50 states and then some in hopes of making a documentary.

Also in the works is “an ‘ideas’ program to promote idea sharing, brainstorming, collaboration, and creativity in schools.” Eventually they hope to engage civic groups, and given the damage Hurricane Sandy did to their hometown in the Rockaways, they also want to collect suggestions on how to make the area more resilient.

If you’re inspired to solicit strangers where you live, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Under the lights on Broadway. (Photo via Ideas Improv.)

  1. Go to the crowds. Locations that have a steady stream of people not in a rush are ideal.
  2. Make obvious signs with big letters. “Ideas Wanted” will spark people’s curiosity.
  3. Keep it general. Welcome ideas about anything and everything and allow yourself to be surprised.
  4. Bring a camera. “Some people are shy and that’s okay. Most people? They see a camera and they become much more intrigued,” Kevin says. “You can tell them the idea is being given out for all the world to see.”
  5. Limit idea pitches to 60 seconds or less. While some people will go on and on no matter what, having a time restraint will help most people focus.
  6. Persist with idea hoarders. “If people don’t want to share their idea because they’re afraid you’ll steal it, ask for their second, third, or fourth best idea,” Kevin says. You can also tell them you’re too busy doing the project to steal theirs.
  7. Ask for their contact information. You’ll want to keep them informed about how the project progresses.
  8. Have fun. Joke with and cajole people as they pass to make them feel invited.

“A lot of people will be stumped. They have ideas all the time but they’re suddenly brain dead when asked for an idea,” Kevin finally says. “Talk to them about the project. Tell them you’ll be there for a while so if they want to come back you’ll be ready. If you have fun with it, people will have fun, too.”


Interested in promoting idea sharing at your school, nonprofit, or workplace? Feel free to get in touch with Kevin:

Do you know of other projects that are fun and potentially replicable? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, leave a comment below or email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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In Portland, OR? We'd love to meet you.


A lot of great ideas are floating around this town. Can we hear yours? (Image: Photos by Mavis, Flickr/Creative Commons)

We’re looking for lots of very short-term volunteers in our Portland office this fall. If you’re in the neighborhood, please let us know if you’d like to help out!

Project #1: Putting the “idea list” back in Idealist

Celeste loves ideas.

With your help, frequent blogger Celeste is creating a nifty new web feature that will help good ideas spread faster.

If you’re the kind of person who has good ideas about how to make Portland (or the world) better, or the kind of person who helps other people implement their ideas, please consider a quick conversation with her. Find all of the details at


Project #2: user research

Elise is as fascinated by user research as she is by space.

Elise, our project manager for web development, has a one-track mind: she wants the user experience to be the best it can be.

If you’ll sit down with Elise and let her watch you use the site for an hour, we’ll throw in a $25 Amazon gift card!

Learn more on the volunteer opportunity listing on Idealist, or sign up here.


Thanks in advance for your help!

Not in Portland? We always post our volunteer opportunities on our website. You can connect with us to stay informed about future opportunities in your city.

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Idea File: Honey Bee Network spreads rich ideas of India's poor

A network in India that finds and supports grassroots innovators


The Honey Bee Network and the National Innovation Foundation have helped to generate over 200 patents to date. Photo by cygnus921 (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Next month, Professor Anil Gupta will set out on foot in rural India with a team of scientists, villagers, students, and more. During the course of the week they will walk up to 11 miles daily with one goal in mind: to discover “barefoot inventors” that swarm the country but go unnoticed.

The bi-annual walk, called the shodh yatra, is what keeps the Honey Bee Network abuzz. Since Gupta started the network over 20 years ago, the informal group has been focused on finding and spreading the rich ideas of India’s economically poor. “The minds on the margin are not marginal minds,” says Gupta.

But it’s not just about going to the countryside and saying “namaste.” With the support of the National Innovation Foundation, the network helps these unsung innovators scale their inventions as well as connects them to other villagers who could benefit. That’s where the honey bee metaphor comes in – Gupta aims to cross-pollinate ideas just as honey bees share nectar from flower to flower.

So far, 150,000+ inventions have been brought to light. A few even made cameos in the blockbuster Bollywood film, 3 Idiots. No wonder, as the sheer ingenuity of some of these contraptions will leave your mouth gaping in amazement.

Here are three that make me want to hop on a plane and go to India right now:

  • Amphibious bike. Needing a way to get to safety when his village was swamped with floods three decades ago, Mohammed Saiddullah created a bike that rides through water. I’m sure there are some laws of nature being defied here.
  • Mini washing machine. The most well-publicized idea, Remya Jose’s pedal-powered clothes washer saves time and electricity – not to mention seems like it burns serious calories.
  • Tree climbing apparatus. Wanting to quickly collect coconuts, Appachan created a device that allows him to scurry up the tree safely and in no time. He’s now known as the local Spiderman.

Besides India, the Honey Bee network has sweetened its impact in China, and is emerging in Brazil and South Africa. Could your country be next?

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Idea List: Personal toilets, powerful rice husks, and more


Photo of Peepoo by Sustainable sanitation (Flickr/Creative Commons)

I like ideas. Luckily for me, my work at Idealist is all about helping to spread ’em.

Here are some interesting, and potentially replicable, solutions I’ve come across lately that make me happy to be in this field:

  • Rice husks in India power rural villages. (Sierra Club)
  • Mobile internet cafes run out of buses in Rwanda help bridge the digital divide. (Dowser)
  • Hollaback! encourages women all over the world to share their stories of sexual harassment on the streets, and puts them on a public map. (NY Times)
  • Detroit’s Soup at Spalding event invites community members to eat soup while learning about projects that need funding. (Shareable)
  • The Peepoo, a personal single use toilet, uses waste to fertilize crops in Kenya. (GOOD)

Did you read, see, or experience something lately that you think deserves more attention, and maybe a copycat or two? Leave a comment below so we can add it to the next idea list!

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[Idea File] Swapping ideas with neighbors

Today’s idea sharing model

Everyday, all around the world, people are coming up with local solutions to the needs in their communities. Sometimes well-known leaders are the driving force, other times it’s the people we walk by in the grocery store every week. But regardless of who enacts change, the burning question always is: just how did they do it?

Our United Villages is a community-enhancement organization in Portland, OR that strives to answer this question through the event “Sharing Ideas: Grassroots Projects Started by Neighbors.” Here’s how it works: panelists represent projects that (a) have community benefits and (b) might be replicable in other neighborhoods. They talk about initial inspiration, how exactly they moved from the idea to action (including challenges), and their hopes for the project’s future. Audience members can ask further questions, and briefly touch upon their own projects at the conclusion. The whole session is recorded for archival purposes.


Ecotrust atrium photo by Sam Beebe (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to attend the event at the beautiful downtown Ecotrust building in Portland. There were four panelists, and the topics ranged from urban farming to ice cream socials to traffic calming. Not only did I learn more about Portland and some of the good things going on, but I left the event feeling that such a simple model for idea sharing could work in other places. Here are some things to consider:


  • A focus on an honest assessment of challenges is refreshing
  • The guiding questionnaire that speakers complete beforehand helps to keep the talk on track
  • A dynamic Q&A gives the audience a chance to participate
  • Plugging your own projects enriches knowledge in the room
  • The opportunity to informally network with the audience face-to-face increases potential for connections
  • Access to an online audio recording is helpful for future reference (in case you can’t make it, or don’t want to take notes)


  • The format lends itself to a slim picking of projects – and you may not be interested in any of them
  • Similarly, how do organizers decide which projects to highlight?
  • One risk: projects might be compelling, but the speakers might not be so engaging on a panel
  • Sustainability can be an issue, as obtaining an event space, finding apt facilitators, etc., can be time consuming

What do you think? Could this work in your village, town or city? And what other replicable idea sharing models are out there?

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