May 10, 2011

The Funny Thing About Ideas

Ideas are a funny thing. The best ones seem to come out of nowhere, often at the most unusual times. Like many entrepreneurs, I know many, many more great ideas have come to me at 3AM (when, at 2:59 I was sound asleep) than when I was sitting behind my desk. And when this happens, the irony is never lost on me that all that time I was spending intensely focusing on finding a solution was actually holding the solution back. I don’t know why this is, of course, but in hindsight, I always appreciate the comedy. This helps remind me to not take everything so gravely seriously and it helps me remember that this all is a game, a game that is only fun when you keep it enjoyable.

Most entrepreneurs have lots of ideas. As a breed, we seem the world in terms of what it lacks, and when these realizations come, our minds immediately spring into solution-design mode. We are good at this because this is what we do. We are sort of idealistic maintenance people of the world. We see problems and we set out to fix them.

In fact, the biggest skill most entrepreneurs can learn is to tell the good ideas from the not so good ones. Usually, the great, as well as the horrible, ideas are easy to spot. But, when we get into the gray area between good and meh, things can get a little murky. Our acuity, of course, sharpens with experience. That is, the more ideas we have run down the better we will be at pre-judging future ideas. We can more quickly see what the impact this new idea will have on our resources, and we can learn to do cost/benefit analysis practically on the fly.

Now, even though this process can help remove a lot of risk, it also removes a lot of magic too. In my opinion, most great ideas sound crazy when most normal people hear them for the first time. They could have been easily eliminated because they were too expensive, too time-consuming, too far-out, too new, etc. To well-grooved ways of thinking, the revolutionary will always sound like a long-shot, at best. However, if there weren’t those around to take a chance on these crazy ideas, our world would suffer much for it.

As funny as it sounds, naiveté can actually be an asset. After all, if you REALLY knew how hard everything was going to be before you tried, you would probably try far fewer things. I have heard the same story, from countless company founders, that the main reason they were able to accomplish super-human feats was simply because they did not know they weren’t supposed to be able to. They did not waste the time in wondering whether or not they were supposed to conquer the world, they just went out and did it.

So, what is an embattled entrepreneur to do? If you find yourself only chasing after the safest bets, chances are your work is a lot less fun than it used to be. It is my opinion, though, that this is not a trade you have to make. Often, especially if we have a family to support, we can let our responsibilities completely cut us off from our creativity. It is my belief that the main goal in life is to have a well-lived one, whatever that means to you. And, if you have the creative capacity, you are only cutting yourself off from your own abilities if you get too scared to use them.

Of course, I am not advocating just throwing caution to the wind with whatever notion currently compels you. No, that well-earned experience that you have is extremely valuable. The trick is, to use your wisdom and your sense of wonder together. Have a crazy idea you are fired up about that you really want to pursue? Well, setup some low-risk tests to see if your ideas have legs. Do some search engine keyword research and see if there are people searching for keyword terms that would relate to your idea. Build a prototype and use it for yourself. The excitement about our great ideas is the juice most of us get out of our work, so don’t be afraid to chase that next crazy idea you have. I think that you will find that when you use all of your skills, and your experience, to your advantage, your working life will be much fuller for it.

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