During my childhood, there was a myth that was readily predicated by the adults in my life: come up with that next big idea and you will succeed. Teachers. Parents. Media. Your neighbor Bob. They all crazy for this myth.
We see successful people changing the world and we dissolve away everything that was required to get there to a simple, “idea.” You’ve of course heard the famous:
“I had that idea…”
“If only I had thought of that…”
We as a culture believe that the value and success is determined by the idea.
The error of course is in simplifying any success down to a single idea.
Most of us have twenty ideas pop into our head before breakfast. An idea is simply a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action; an aim or purpose.
In that case, wanting eggs over easy versus pancakes is a legitimate idea. Not going to make you millions, but an idea nonetheless. But what happens next in your thought process is where the real power, success, and impact draws from (even when it’s just an idea of what you want for breakfast).
The Power of Ideas
Ideas are powerful. Pay close attention to that last sentence. Idea(s) plural. In my experience, the power of idea (singular) is weak.
A single idea is lonely.
It is unpolished.
Fickle at best.
But the untrained worship the idea, not ideas. The amateur beacon hunters daydream and wish upon a sunny day that their idea will get picked. Swooped up and carried to Mount Zuckerberg to cash in on all that is billionaire.
Those that wish upon an idea, will never see success. Alone an idea goes nowhere but the ether of our brain. A record on repeat never to leave us alone. One that will keep you locked in whatever space you currently occupy.
No need to quit this job with this idea. No need to take a risk. No need to get out of bed.
The magic happens when idea becomes ideas.
“I want eggs. I want them scrambled into an omelette. With ham and feta and tomatoes and parsley. I will grease the pan with grass-fed Irish butter. I will under-cook it slightly so that it is super juicy and allows the farm fresh egg flavor to shine. I will go make this deliciousness now.”
Of course wanting and cooking eggs in the morning isn’t a very powerful idea (except for the flavor explosion that will proceed).
In Business and Bombs
I’m going on fifteen years as an entrepreneur. What I’ve learned beyond a shadow of a doubt is how powerless an idea really is. The true power in an idea emerges when you provide an idea ample runway, resources, and time to reach it’s potential. This happens by linking the idea to hundreds and thousands of other ideas.
Facebook is not an idea. It’s millions of ideas.
Sure, you can boil it down to a simple concept of “a social network.” Or “connecting people online with their friends.” But thinking to yourself that this is why Facebook is worth over $228 billion dollars is delusional. Believing that you could have come up with this idea and find yourself on Mount Zuck is wasted energy.
Many entrepreneurs had the idea of a social network. Most that tried failed. Some succeeded to a point. Others never saw the light of day.
Facebook is not an idea.
It’s a very long, long, long, chain of ideas that has become very powerful.
Kind of like the links between the forefathers of nuclear physics and creators of Little Boy and Fat Man. You can’t pinpoint which idea it was that made all of the difference.
There is no power in a single idea, but in the series… unlimited potential energy.
A lesson I have had to learn through a series of failures (sprinkled with successes) is that I need to be prepared for the long, long haul to develop any series of ideas worthwhile. The idea that presents itself today is only the first link in the chain that will get me to a desired end result.
Let me give you a play-by-play example:
- Before founding uGurus, I was helping other businesses like mine grow in my spare time by blogging and speaking.
- I saw and experienced some really great successes in this work and thought it had bigger potential.
- I had an idea to sell my company and do that full time.
- That required gobs of ideas to figure out how to pull off in a rather limited window of time.
- Once I had a new company, I needed to figure out how to make money by helping more businesses grow.
- I tried many different ideas. Video courses. Blogging. Affiliate deals. JV launches. Markets.
- At one point found myself contracting our skillsets out again to keep the lights on.
- I talked to dozens of web professionals and agency owners to learn about all of their ideas.
- Created some products that never saw the light of day.
- Found one that seemed more powerful than all of the others.
- Took it to market with a small group of people.
- They loved it.
- Had to come up with dozens of ideas each week to solve all of the various problems we encountered.
- After a year of that work, finally developed a method to scale the product (with a bunch of ideas).
- Now the problem is figuring out how to scale demand (which requires a ton of ideas).
- Maybe later we’ll need ideas on how to scale our platform. Or into other markets. Or ideas for more services to bring into the ecosystem.
For a while I even thought that as leader in the business, I need to come up with all of the ideas. This is also very flawed but perhaps for another post. A key leadership lesson has been to realize my job is more to create a space for ideas to flow and evolve each and every day, than to be the gatekeeper or custodian of any single idea.
If Only I Had Thought of That
I am beginning to feel at this point in my business’s trajectory that somewhere down the future (or maybe it’s already happened), an uninitiated will see me speak, check out my website, look at what I have done and say:
“I had that idea.”
But this will be so far from the truth that I will have nothing to do but shrug and leave them isolated and stuck in place. There is nothing I could ever tell that person more than, “it takes a lot of hard work and persistence!”
If I were to distill that down to a single idea, it has to be that hard work and persistence only exist if you are ready and willing to come up with ideas each and every day that will get you just a little further on your quest.
Don’t get held hostage by a single idea along the way.
When you embrace this, you’ll get a taste of the power of successive ideas.
Author notes about thriving in a world of successive ideas:
Based on the knowledge I have learned about needing to manage a series of successive ideas and not a single idea, I have built a system and methodology to keep track of and nurture my ideas. Here are the basics:
I use Trello to catalog and organize hundreds of ideas every month. I have it installed on my phone so I can wake up in the middle of the night, jot down a couple of cards, and go back to sleep.
I write notes from every conversation I have in a paper and pen ledger or Evernote.
I create mindmap brainstorms with Mindmeister to unpack ideas into visual trees.
I use the Lean Canvas to communicate business and product ideas.
I take periodic 30 minute clarity breaks for the sole purpose of writing down and exploring ideas.
I spend 60 to 90 minutes with each of my teams every week to refine and discuss ideas and issues.
I take a day out of every quarter to meet with my leadership team to create, kill, and combine dozens and dozens of ideas.
I spend two days a year doing this same thing in a longer duration.
I invest in mastermind groups to learn and share ideas with other people like and unlike me.
I read about ideas. I listen to audio books about ideas when I can’t read. I watch videos about other ideas.