Eric Kraus


How To Come Up With Great Ideas

Whether you are a professional in a career, a student working on a thesis or boot-strapping entrepreneur looking for the next big thing, producing a stream of new ideas may be something you struggle with. You often hear people say, “But I’m just not good at coming up with ideas”. Regardless of the purpose, the process is pretty much the same for everyone: Practice.

We all possess this amazing tool for creativity, our brain. It’s true that some people are better at ideas than others. It doesn’t come from some innate power where ideas just come to them. It comes from their approach and practice toward problem solving.

Here are some suggestions to rev up your own creative engine.

Start mental exercises 

  • Write problems down on a piece of paper or at the top of a page in OneNote, Evernote, etc. This will help you keep track, but also being clear on the problem you are trying to solve will help you focus better.
  • Start journaling. Fiction writers do this to break through writer’s block. If you’re stuck on developing a problem statement journaling can help. The goal is to get your mind working.
  • Make lists of things you like/dislike about your personal life, job, etc. This can help spark new ideas or vet out potential solutions. See below for more on this.
  • Read Quora for trending questions. Add filters to narrow on your interests.
  • Review Google Trends for things people are searching for
  • Use a random idea generator to give you a topic to think or write about
  • Be open to ideas that are related but not relevant to what you are seeking. These “tangents” are often the thoughts that spark other ideas that get you want.

Have dedicated “thinking” time

  • Do it early in the day. You are likely a better thinker at 6am than you are at 6pm after a crazy day. Much like a runner feels the best before a race…don’t try to dedicate time to creativity after you’ve just run a mental marathon.
  • Dedicate at least 10 minutes to thinking. Daily. It’s only 10 minutes. Depending on the type of method you use, meditation can be great tool for this as well.
  • Uninterrupted time will serve you better than trying this with kids running around or emails/IMs distracting you.

Make lists, diagrams and other notes to spark ideas

Topics can include anything from world issues to common challenges encountered while preparing a meal at home. I often experiment with diagraming these topics. I’ve found The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking incredibly helpful for generating ideas and example diagrams. Each page of the entire book is a different strategic model. It’s really easy to skip around and try different ones out.

Don’t just think. Do.

One of my favorite quotes: “Starting a business is like choosing lunch.  Picking nothing is guaranteed to leave you still hungry.  Picking ‘something’ is better than nothing.  It’s not about being right, it’s about being.” – Seth Godin

I think the same applies to getting started with anything. It’s better to start thinking today than to wait for ‘the perfect idea’ to come along tomorrow.

After a short amount of time, you will be amazed at the new ideas that your exploration brings to you. As you get better at it, managing all the new “tangents” will be more difficult than generating them. It’s best to have some type of “Icebox” to let your ideas chill so they aren’t a distraction. I use OneNote  which allows me to quickly create a new Page and toss in a few bullet points about the idea to build on later. I have also had good experience with the Werdsmith app, but found it’s rich editing capabilities lacking.

Good luck and happy ideation.

Microsoft and Open Source

Wanted to share some updates on the work Microsoft is doing in the open source space.

Open Compute Project

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ack in January, we announced a contribution to the Open Compute Project.  Microsoft is sharing what they call their ‘Microsoft cloud server specification‘: the designs for the most advanced server hardware in Microsoft datacenters delivering global cloud services like Windows Azure, Office 365, Bing and others.

We are excited to participate in the OCP community and share our cloud innovation with the industry in order to foster more efficient datacenters and the adoption of cloud computing.

more details on that can be found here.


[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nother interesting set of investments in open source comes from the Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc. team.  It’s a group of people building bridges between Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies…powering interoperability through open standards and open source.

Here are some of the projects they are working:

Office 365 and DocuSign Partnership

Microsoft and DocuSign recently announced a partnership to bring electronic signatures to Office 365.

Among the features first being delivered:

  • Easy administration
  • Single-Sign On
  • Secure Storage
  • Office Store availability

Both organizations have agreed that this is only the start and they will continue to collaborate on bringing new innovations to the Office 365 offering.

More details:



ChronoZoom is an open-source community project dedicated to visualizing the history of everything. Big History is the attempt to understand, in a unified, interdisciplinary way, the history of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity. By using Big History as the story line, ChronoZoom seeks to bridge the gap between the humanities and sciences an enable all this information to be easily understandable and navigable.

Check it out!


Check out a time when there was no “time”



Earth and the Solar System is actually such a small window in history



Learn about a time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth



See the how the United States’ history relative to the universe.


Microsoft Research TechFest 2012

I recently attended TechFest 2012, an inspiring event put on by Microsoft Research out in Redmond.  The event happens once a year and allows Microsoft employees and select guests the opportunity to view research projects from Microsoft’s labs around the globe.

While there were some really, really amazing applications demoed at the event, I would have to say my two favorite projects were FetchClimate and Cliplets.  They are both projects available for the general public to use and provide feedback on today!


FetchClimate is a fast, free and intelligent climate data retrieval service that operates on Microsoft’s Azure cloud service.  FetchClimate allows users to access climate data for any geographical region during year ranges between 1900 and 2010 in various formats and share this information via a unique URL.


FetchClimate – Try it now!



An interactive application that allows users to create a type of imagery, a “cliplet” which resembles part photo and part video.  The applications provides the ability for users to import a video and mask certain parts of the video to play and others to remain still.

Here is an example I created.  Keep an eye on the bird in the middle!


more information on Cliplets >>


TechFest Project Info

A complete list of the projects shown at TechFest can be found on the TechFest 2012 site:

Follow Microsoft Research

You can follow more of Microsoft Research discussions on Twitter or Facebook.