What Do You Do When You’ve Got Tons of Ideas But You’re Not Executing?

(Photo credit: One Too Many Dices by centralasian)

Got a reader question the other day and I thought it might be valuable as a blog post. Devan writes:

QUESTION: I currently run some drop-shipping sites, and I have 100’s of ideas for start-ups but I feel overloaded with ideas, and never actually just do one. If that makes sense. So if you have any experience on that a post would be cool.

Great question Devan and thanks for reaching out. I have some thoughts on this issue that I’ll try to share. I know you’re talking specifically about startups, but I’m going to broaden this to “projects” in general, because I know there are a lot of people out there who might “grok” it better with this phrasing.

The truth is, this is a really tough nut to crack. My computer is littered with folders filled with half-started ideas and PDF’s to be read and podcasts to be listened to “someday”. I think it’s not uncommon for people who are naturally curious about variety of things to have challenges focusing on one particular “thing”. Luckily there a couple of solid ways of addressing this issue that you might find helpful.

1) UNDERSTAND THAT YOU’RE A SCANNER

There’s a great book by a woman named Barbara Sher called Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams (affiliate link) that talks about people she calls “Scanners”. Here’s her description for them:

Scanners love to read and write, to fix and invent things, to design projects and businesses, to cook and sing, and to create the perfect dinner party. (You’ll notice I didn’t use the word “or,” because Scanners don’t love to do one thing or the other; they love them all.)

Our society frowns on this apparent self-indulgence. Of course, it’s not self- indulgence at all; it’s the way Scanners are designed, and there’s nothing they can or should do about it. A Scanner is curious because he is genetically programmed to explore everything that interests him. If you’re a Scanner, that’s your nature. Ignore it and you’ll always be fretful and dissatisfied.

Sher’s book is great – it really helped me appreciate and come to terms with my has a number of exercises she encourages Scanners to pursue and the one I’ll share here is about capturing your ideas.

2) CAPTURE YOUR IDEAS

In Refuse to Choose, Sher tells Scanners that it’s important for them to embrace their nature and integrate it into their lives, rather than blocking it out and being miserable, or indulging in irresponsibly and suffering from the adverse consequences.

One of the most important things to do here is to save all your ideas. Every time an idea pops into your head about a startup, save it. Write it down somewhere. Email it to yourself. I like to use Evernote to track blog ideas, startup ideas, project ideas, etc.

I think part of the anxiety around “never executing” is that you become afraid these ideas are fleeting and if you don’t do something about them right away, you’ll lose them. Well if you save these ideas, then they’re yours forever. You can go start a company around one (if you think of something really really good) – or you could take your time, combine good ideas together, and just feel more secure, knowing all your good stuff is safe.

3) KNOCK OUT STEP ONE

Often the reason why we don’t do anything with our ideas is because we start thinking about all the work they’ll entail. We get discouraged and scared – and that’s never good. So don’t do all the work. Start with something super simple.

In the design world this would be called “prototyping” and in the lean startup lingo it’s building an “MVP” (short of minimum viable product). It’s good for idea-prone folks to think through what they’d have to do to nail step one of the project. Maybe it’s doing some research and writing a couple paragraphs on why the idea makes sense. Maybe it’s sketching out some outlines. Maybe it’s making a few phone calls to potential customers. Go do something that’s simple yet core to the idea.

4) TAKE ON PROJECTS THAT ARE INHERENTLY VARIED

Looking back at the things I’ve really stuck with, I see that variety is baked in. As a gymnast, you have six different events to compete on and a huge multitude of skills to learn. That kept things fresh and interesting for me. In writing this blog, I am free explore variety of topics – startups, gymnastics, rejection therapy and other personal experiments, interviews, etc. However, I can bucket all these things under “blogging” and it’s part of a single project/endeavor. I love that.

I’d encourage people with a range of interests to look for things like blogging or running a business or hosting a series of meetups as a way of exploring a variety of interests while sticking to “one thing”.

5) ENGAGE OTHERS

I think the projects and endeavors that have been most successful for me (What’s Next: 25 Under 25, the Rejection Therapy Podcast, or even finding a new roommate) have involved other people. It can be easy for me to get demotivated if I’m slaving away by myself – and it’s a lot easier for me to get fired up when I know that my work is going to impact others.

So next time you come up with an idea that you find particularly exciting, email a friend or two who you think might be interested. Propose you two work on it and nail a step one (or step one, two and three if you’re feeling ambitious).

What happens if your friend isn’t interested? No worries, email some other people. What if no one’s interested? It’s certainly not the end of the world. Maybe you should rethink the idea – or at least how you pitch it. Or maybe you need to get new friends… ;-)

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5 comments
Regina
Regina

Thanks for sharing the concept of "scanners"! I've got a copy of her book reserved for me at the library now :)

klous
klous

Scanners" is an interesting term, definitely preferable over "dabblers".

For me, the issue of too many ideas and not enough execution has a lot to do with the uninformed optimism/informed pessimism cycle. Momentum and inspiration are an important element as you can do some initial research and customer development while the idea has inertia. As Derek mentioned, the good ideas seem to bubble up and refinement continues as you digest new information.

I also found some good organizational insights from "Making Ideas Happen" by Scott Belsky.

jasonshen
jasonshen moderator

@klous Making Things Happen is a great book. Belsky takes a solid stance on how what creative people need most is structure and process. Certainly not sexy, but true. Thanks Scott!

thederek
thederek

Like Devan, I've totally struggled with this, too. And, like Jason, I have Moleskine & Evernote notebooks chock-full of what I'm positive are uber-awesome ideas. Also really like the term "Scanners," Jason-- that resonates big time w/ me (especially about loving "all of them.")

What's worked for me personally, though, is to sit on my ideas, talk about them with friends, and read/listen to a lot of other ideas. I go back and re-read stuff I've written down in the past at regular intervals, too. Slowly, I've found my best ideas start bubbling to the surface-- they come to my mind more often, increasingly end up in conversation, and I start connecting something I read/hear in a blog post or podcast to them more and more.

Those ideas usually go through transformations and travel a long way, but eventually I've got a few that's it's clear I'm most excited about, most sure about their success and meaningfulness (is that a word?). And that's when you JFDI. I'm convinced the only reason for inaction... is inaction. Also, my favorite post on JFDI is Mark Suster's (http://www.cloudave.com/1171/what-makes-an-entrepreneur-four-letters-jfdi/) but there are tons, tons more.

Thanks Jason!

jasonshen
jasonshen moderator

@thederek Thanks for sharing Derek. Would also love to compare notes too on ideas. JFDI indeed!

Trackbacks

  1. […] I decide to essentially repost the thing on my blog [1]. I wrote a post earlier this month on having too many ideas and not executing that was prompted by a reader email. Well, it’s happened again. I got in touch with a dude […]

  2. newsery6 says:

    What Do You Do When You've Got Tons of Ideas But You're Not Executing? – http://bit.ly/gYQWCV – [Hacker News FH]

  3. HN Firehose says:

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  4. What Do You Do When You’ve
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    Executing? http://bit.ly/hS7pCY

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