How I come up with content ideas for my books

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I’m preparing the next “volumes” of the books “Service Design Principles”. I’ve already written and published the first 100 Service Design principles and I’m now working on the principles 101 to 200 and on the third book with the principles 201 to 300.

As I’m doing it I thought it might be interesting to share with you how I come up with content ideas for these books.

A new way

The first book was based on about 3 years of writing. So I just wrote content when I had an idea and once I had a lot of content I decided to turn it into a book. It took 3 years to have enough content for a book. This time I promised to my wife I will come up with a new book with 100 more principles every year. And she is making me keep that promise (yeah I know it was a stupid promise).

So now I can’t just rely on the on the spot inspiration. I have to plan a bit more. That’s why for the next books in this series I’m now coming up with all titles, or content ideas, all at once. I try to seperate the idea generation part and the content writing part. So that, in the next weeks, when I’m writing I can just write. I will not have to think about what to write.

Okay, so I had to come up with about 200 new service design principles. How did I do that?

My three technics to come up with new content ideas

To keep track of the ideas I use a Miro board where I write the title on a sticky note, and below that if needed I add a sticky note with more explanation and a link to the source that inspired me.

To keep track of the ideas I use a Miro board where I write the title on a sticky note, and below that if needed I add a sticky note with more explanation and a link to the source that inspired me.

1. Studies and statistics

Often I read a statistic or a study and I think: oh that’s inspiring! And from there I come up with a title that summarizes the learning I take out of the statistic. So I did a lot of Google search. I looked for statistics and studies about customer experience, customer service, service design. And then when I didn’t find anymore stuff I opened it up by looking at research and statistics about customers frustrations, psychology and even business and change management 🤓

This type of research is quite frustrating as most website basically repeat the same exact studies that are really interesting. So it takes a shit load of time to find new interesting stuff. Also many statistics are more about the importance of customer experience than on specific problems. But still you have to go through all to find the little gems.

Then once I’m to frustrated, I change technic to find new content ideas:

2. Dancing and looped music (seriously!)

I put my headphones, pick a song, put it on loop. And it starts. I’m basically walking around our flat with the same stupid song in my head. I look at every object in the appartement and start to think about memories attached to this object. From there the mind goes away and finally at some point I arrive to an interesting story. Sounds weird? Let me show you an example.

The “case” to carry a cat that is sitting in our flat and inspired an idea

The “case” to carry a cat that is sitting in our flat and inspired an idea

So I’m looking at the “case” to carry the cat that is in our bedroom. Our cat died a few month ago and we are looking for a new one. A few days ago a good friend of ours offered us a new kitty! The kitty will arrive in a few month. While we wait, the friend is sending us photos of the kitty to make us wait. Bam. Idea. What if businesses would do the same? What if when I go buy a car instead of waiting for weeks without any news I recieve photos showing the building process. What if when I am buying a hand made chair at a carpenter he sends me photos of how the furniture is taking shape as I wait?

And what about the dancing? I figured out that while I’m walking around my flat it would just be more fun to dance around! So that’s what I do.

Once I did that in my flat and it doesn’t work anymore I did basically the same thing but outside. I went out with the same stupid song in my head and walked around the city. Each time I saw something I tried to bring back a new memory and see if there was something interesting behind it.

Finally, this technic also started to bring less ideas with the time. So then I switched again technic:

3. Review my digital brain

The last technic I used to find 200 new service design principles was to review what was in my digital brain. For that I opened my photos library. By looking at past photos I’ve taken it remembered me of great moments and little frustrations which I could turn into Principles.

Then I also made a review of my notebook where I store links, references and ideas about specific topics on Service Design. By going through that list of pages I found studies and ideas I captured month ago and that could be turned again in Service Design Principles.

My notion notebook and a cat that isn’t mine but looks cute

My notion notebook and a cat that isn’t mine but looks cute

How long did it take to come up with 200 content ideas?

I don’t have the exact time for 200 principles, but I tracked it for 138 🤓Yep I forgot to time track that properly. So to come up with 138 new content ideas it took me 6 hours and 32 minutes over 2 days. Of course this was possible as I already wrote one book like this and I know what I’m looking for. It would be much harder if it was my first book.

It’s not difficult, it takes time

I often like to say that the types of books I like to write are “toilets books”. You know the kind of books you can read while taking a shit. You open the book, read a few page. Finish your little job. And leave the book there for another day. I love to write books which are composed of many smaller elements that can be read alone. I can’t write a book that is one coeherent story which goes over pages and pages.

My books are a collection of small articles put together in one format. And this type of book is pretty simple to write. You just need to take the time to come up with enough ideas. And 6 hours and 32 minutes isn’t so long for having the content of one book.

Daniele Catalanotto