How Capturing an Idea is Like Netting a Songbird

Posted by Heather Kelly on

Catching a bird with a net is like capturing thoughts - or an idea. I volunteer at the Toronto Wildlife Centre. And during my last shift, it occurred to me that catching an idea or thought is like catching a bird.

I sometimes catch tiny songbirds that escape their enclosures. Little thrushes or sparrows or kinglets or ovenbirds. This evening I caught a gull to be moved to another room, and a songbird that had escaped its enclosure as I was topping up its food. A net is needed to gently capture these and other creatures. At the TWC, there are nets of all sizes, materials, and colours.

The idea is to capture the bird under the net. Watch and wait until it has stopped momentarily. Don’t let the structure of the net harm the bird. And you don’t want the bird to get tangled in the net. Also: don’t try to catch a bird in flight.

The net is just a tool to gently capture and contain the bird for a short amount of time. Until you can get a gentle but firm grip on it. And move it to an appropriate home where it can gain strength.

This is such a lovely metaphor for capturing ideas.

When you know there’s an idea flying around the room (or in your head), try to get a look at it. It might land somewhere inconvenient and hard to reach. It might fly away a few times before you can catch it.

Notebooks are the perfect tool for catching thoughts and ideas, of course.

You may be a person who does daily stream of consciousness writing to discover hidden ideas before capturing them. I do this in a simple lined notebook. You may be the kind of person, perhaps an artist or a strategist, who thinks visually. The perfect thing may be an unlined notebook that enables you to draw mind-maps or relationship structures or strategy pillars.

Your style and lifestyle also affect what is the right tool for you. If you want to carry your ‘net’ in a shirt or suit jacket or cargo pants pocket, you will need a smaller thinner notebook. And a small pen. If you carry a backpack or large purse everywhere, a larger book may be perfect for you.

A couple of things to think about:

  1. You will want to have the right size and format of notebook that is easy to have with you at all times. Ideas start flying at the most unexpected and inopportune times, and they don’t stick around. You need to capture them when they are near. Wherever you happen to be.
  1. The notebook you use to discover and/or capture your ideas might be just a net. Not where the idea should be housed longer-term. Once you capture an idea, you might need to move it to a different notebook where it can live and grow.

Just like you wouldn’t leave a bird in a net, and nor do you leave your idea there either. Once you have caught it, it’s time to gently and firmly get a grip on it and move it to where it will be safe and nurtured. Or a place where it is monitored for a short while and then released. Your ideas need to be easy to find and develop.

Your ‘net’ notebook may include quickly scrawled words, sentence fragments, a quick list, or rough sketches. These become clearer as you transfer them to a different notebook where you can add details and take care of the idea as it grows. There are many different notebooks and approaches to help with that next step. Once you have captured the idea.

(You can read about my adventures at the Toronto Wildlife Centre at









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