Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. ~ John Steinbeck
Entrepreneurs are starters; we love to begin something new! We also see opportunities that others don’t see. So as we live our lives we are always coming up with new ways of doing things, new ideas that need to be pursued, new opportunities.
How many times have you come back to your office, all excited by a new idea; you share it with your team and they grimace. They aren’t excited, to them it looks like work – and besides – what happened to the last 40 great ideas you came running in the office with?
Ouch! That stings.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. ~Anon.
So what do we do with all the ideas we have that we can’t execute on? Should they go in a big dustbin? Are they diamonds in the rough, or energy sapping distractions?
The hard answer is that taken together they are likely some of each, I’m sure there’s a lot of distractions and some duds mixed in with some that are great ideas. Even if it is a “great” idea there’s still the question of whether it’s an idea that’s good for you to pursue, or better for someone else.
A goal without a plan is a wish ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Write it down
Ideas in our head are worthless. Ideas in our head are distractions. You can’t evaluate, plan or act on ideas in your head. If you have an idea that you think is worth pursuing write it down. (Heck, there’s a lot of folks who tell you to write down every idea.) Write down the opportunity you see, what’s the problem, what’s the potential solution, who is this going to help and what it might be worth to that person. This is a “brief” and it’s helpful to have a consistent format for recording these things (it makes it easier to compare them later).
Once you have it written down look for what could go wrong, where is the most risky assumption that you’ve made, where’s the thing you understand the least, where is it all going to fall apart? Is there someone you could talk to who could clear that up? Is there an experiment you could make to qualify that risk? Jot down the simplest things you could do, without help from your team, to qualify this opportunity. But don’t run off an do it yet!
At this point you might be getting pretty excited, you’ve got the beginnings of a plan here, there’s actions to take, you are ready go GO! But there’s two more things that you need to do.
Is this for you to do?
If you are reading this you likely already own a business, so the first question to ask is how will this idea help your current business or current customers. Many times new ideas come when we are frustrated with a lack of progress on the “big thing” we’re already working on and the temptation is to start something new because it’s exciting and we haven’t found all the hard work and problems we’re experiencing in our current business. This is a trap. The key to creating value is to finish things, and the boring slog in the middle is where most of the value is created. Buckle down with your team and get that hard work done.
But that doesn’t mean you need to stop innovating, if the idea you have is relevant to your core business you can keep it in a file, or spend a little side energy on those experiments to vet the idea. Just don’t go hog wild and drive your team nuts.
If the idea that you came up with isn’t related to your core business, that’s fine, who’s business is it related to? Could you give it away to them, or let them run with it and get involved at a later stage?
Let them fight
Even once you’ve culled the list to just those that help your current business and customers you might still have too many to execute on, most of us do. That’s OK, you don’t have to act on every idea right away, keep a list or a folder with all the briefs. Think of this as a parking lot where you can have a “cooling off period”. Once you’ve had an idea sitting there a couple of weeks go back to it, how does it sound now? How does it compare with all the others in that folder?
You might have time for one side project at a time. (That’s what these ideas are right?) Pick the one with the biggest upside and the easiest things to test. Go ahead, run some experiments, call some folks who can help you answer your questions. But this isn’t a 10 hours a day pursuit, it’s a side-hustle. You’ve got a business, remember?
You may spend a month on one idea and it doesn’t pan out. Great, you are free from it! Write down what didn’t work about it and archive that file, then look at your list and pick another one. The key here is to have the discipline to work on just one, and not let it interfere with the gig that’s paying the bills (no matter how boring it’s gotten).
After some time you might have an idea that’s starting to look promising. You’ve tried some experiments and found the right market. You’ve cleared the biggest technical hurdles, you’re really starting to see that this could work. Is it ready to share with your key team members? Pause and take a look at it from their perspective. Ignoring their complaints about how hard they are working, what holes are they likely to try to poke in it. Can you see them getting excited? If so then maybe it’s ready (but maybe give it a few days to let the excitement die down).
When you present it don’t over sell it. This is an idea that you’ve been working on and you want their feedback. Lay out the problem and how your idea can solve it, how it benefits your core client and how it could make your company money. Listen to their feedback and don’t get defensive. Remember, you are the boss, they don’t want to tell you “no”, and they want the business to succeed. Listen carefully.
If they are open, then plan with them about how to continue working on the project (without derailing the business you have).