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… ;-)

The Rejection Therapy Challenge – Week 2


The plot thickens as I continue into the 2nd week of the Rejection Therapy Challenge. (I posted previously about week 1 rejections.)

A recap for new readers: I’ve taken on a 30 day challenge where I need to get personally rejected by someone every single day. I was inspired by www.rejectiontherapy.com to try it and thought it might be fun and help me get out of my comfort zone. I’ve been documenting this stuff on my blog.

INSIGHTS: I think the rejections this week are more interesting and more “real” than last week which I think is great (of course you can be the judge). I’ve also noticed that the challenge is making me more open to talking with strangers – because they might hold a rejection opportunity. It makes me more aware of my surroundings in general. I see that I’m exposing myself to serendipity, as Paul Buchheit recommends. It’s fun, a little stressful at times and as a fringe benefit, it’s makes for a great introductory story when meeting new people.

WEDNESDAY OCT-20

We were out for isocket team lunch and noticed a really nice, brand new Jaguar parked out in front of the restaurant. Later when we’re finishing up lunch we see the owner talking to someone and getting ready to drive off. I run outside and tell him I think he has a really nice car and ask if I could sit in it. He agrees. We talk briefly about why he got the car and how long he’s had it. As he push button starts the car, I ask if I could take it for a spin – he laughs and says no. REJECTION!

THURSDAY OCT-21

Today I got a free V8 with tea infusion from some promoter on the street. Later I run into a homeless guy who  asks for change. I offer the V8 bottle and he refuses! I even ask again “are you sure?” in my most persuasive voice – still no. REJECTION!

Later I was working at Starbucks before a Doctor’s appointment and ended up taking a 25 min phone call with a potential customer. When I ended the call, the old lady sitting across the table from me leaned over and said “I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think that phone call was appropriate.”

She then proceeded to lay into me about how Starbucks isn’t my home office and how phone calls ruin the coffee shop atmosphere. I took it all in good stride and she ended up shaking my hand as she left – I tried hard not to be say anything to provoke her. More amused than anything else at the UNPROMPTED REJECTION!

FRIDAY OCT-22

I was eating lunch at a small Vietnamese place in Burlingame and started joking with the owner about how maybe I could do the dishes instead of paying. She kind of went along with it at first, saying I’d need to wash 8 buckets in 2 hrs and dry them etc. Since that was not really a rejection, I decided to push it by actually pretending like I was going to do it.

At the end of the meal I said “OK, let’s do this!” I took off my jacket, put dishes into the tray and started busing the table. She’s lets me do all this and I start getting nervous. I walk into the back room to start washing the dishes and finally she’s says “Alright, you can stop! I was just joking!” I smile, and silently whisper thanks. REJECTED!

Later that night I was at dinner with friends in Palo Alto when I saw a girl who kind of looked someone I had met a while back. I tried saying her name and seeing if she responded. She didn’t. But she was so *almost* like the person I knew that I just went up to her group and asked if her name was Rui. “Nope it’s not.” she says.

I ask her name. She says she won’t tell me but shell let me guess. The guy next to her says it starts with a “J”. I guess Jessica. Wrong. Jennifer. Wrong. Then she tells me in a condescending tone that her name doesn’t even start with a “J”. EPIC GROUP REJECTION!

Continue reading…

The Rejection Therapy Challenge: Week 1

I’ve been turned down, rejected and blown off for seven days straight. I’m thrilled.

In my last post on the Fear Scorecard, I discuss something I discovered via Hacker NewsRejectionTherapy.com. The site offers up a challenge with one rule: Get personally rejected by someone everyday for 30 days. The goal, according to its Creator Jason Cowlely is to reduce the fear and pain felt around rejection, encourage more open and “risky” social interactions and reap the many rewards that this comes with. (See the about page)

After reading it, I got really interested in doing it. I thought about how I even though I can tolerate a lot of physical pain and academic and career failure, I really don’t like being rejected. This is an area I’d like to tackle and conquer.

So I went for it. The results of just one week have been very interesting and I’ve decided to share them on my blog and see what happens. I dashed off emails of my rejection attempts each day to a couple friends to keep me on track. They’ve been tweaked for readability. Hope you find them interesting and they inspire you to give this a shot.

WEDNESDAY OCT-13

Warmup: asked a lady in airport store if she could “Get me one of these headphones in a different color.” She said no – that’s all they had. SOFTBALL REJECTION!

Main ask: on my Virgin America, I asked the flight attendants if I could fly first class. At first they said “You sure can!” and I followed with “For free” which they rejected. But they were nice about it: “It’s a short flight and even we don’t get free upgrades!”. REJECTION!

THURSDAY OCT-14

Asked a total stranger for their conference schedule guidebook because I didn’t get one. After a big “Pleeease?”, she gave it to me. Damn! But it started a nice conversation. REJECTION FAIL!

Then asked some other girl that my coworkers knew if I could have her Carwoo! sticker and she said “Nope!” REJECTION!

I was so happy! I told her about the challenge and she made me ask her friend out to dinner. Her friend thought about it and then said “I don’t eat dinner”. SILLY REJECTION!

FRIDAY OCT-15

Yesterday I was at Starbucks and their veggie sandwich was literally half the size of the turkey one, so I asked a Starbucks employee if i could have two sandwiches for the price of one. She said no. I decide after this that I’m going to try to avoid business transactions. REJECTION!

SATURDAY OCT-16

I went in for a hug with someone – and she rebuffed this advance. I was a little shocked, but then I realized I had told her about the challenge so it didn’t count. (She then gave me a hug afterward.) SORT OF REJECTION!

Later we were trying to unload our isocket tshirts to people at the conference. Most people were happy to take a shirt, but I approached a few people who had absolutely no interest in a free shirt. REJECTION!

SUNDAY OCT-17

This day was tough. A girl I had met the night before had given me her phone number and told me to call her to get a drink the next day. I didn’t really want to call, but my coworkers said I had to. So I called and left a message and she never responded. SORT OF REJECTION!

Then at the airport I told the TSA people that I had a knee brace before I walked through the detector and it didn’t go off. They said I still had to do a scan. I asked if I could skip it since there was no alarm but they said because I disclosed, they had to. What else would you expect from the TSA? LAME REJECTION!

MONDAY OCT-18

Was going to ask a girl on the train for her number, but there were a bunch of other people there and I didn’t want to make her feel awkward (aka I was being a wuss). FAILED REJECTION!

Then at lunch I complimented a woman on her sunglasses and asked if we could swap. She refused and said that her sunglasses wouldn’t look good on me. REJECTION!

More interestingly, I then decided I would ask another cute girl on the train for her number. This time, I end up sitting across the aisle from her and had a conversation with her (which was mostly her getting nervous energy out because she had forgotten to validate her caltrain ticket). By the time we got off the train and I went to ask for her number, we had connected enough that she said “Sure!” Not bad at all. FAILED REJECTION!

TUESDAY OCT-19

I wanted to knock my rejection out right away so when I was at the Caltrain station, I was looking for opportunities to get rejected. Then I spied a guy eating a croissant and decided to ask if I could have some. Who gives strangers a piece of their croissant? He kind of looked at me funny and pointed at the coffeeshop where he got it, but I insisted that I wanted a piece of HIS croissant. When he asked “just a little piece?” my heart sank. He ended up giving me his croissant. I had to eat it, smile, and then slowly back away. FAILED REJECTION!

Later in the evening, I was at a bar in SF at a bar – I introduced myself to two guys and they were like “Whoa you’ve changed!” Apparently they had run into another Asian guy named Jason at this bar. So I started joking that we needed to fight until there was only ONE! And I asked one of the guys if he’d be my 2nd. You know, in case I died. He said “Yeah, I don’t think I’m down.” REJECTION!

My non-duel partner friend then said “I’ll think about it though if you introduce me to that cute girl over there.” He pointed at someone. I didn’t know who she or any of the five guys she was talking to were. But I said “Ok” and just walked over there, introduced myself to the group, started talking with the girl. After a second, I asked her “Have you met Eric?” After seeding their conversation with a few hooks I took off and let Cupid do his thing. NOT REJECTION BUT STILL AWESOME!

Why Learn Ruby on Rails?

Ruby on Rails is a web-oriented framework built on top of the scripting language Ruby. It’s specifically designed to help developers build web apps faster and more easily.

Hopefully I’ll update this page later on, but here is the bullet point version to why I’m choosing Rails over the many other ways I could learn how to develop web apps.

  • I love 37 signals (the creators of Rails)
  • Rails has a strong and growing community
  • Rails has a lot of off-the-shelf goodies
  • PHP (I’ve been told) can encourage sloppy/janky code-writing
  • I don’t really hear much about Django, the other big web framework
  • Rails powers Twitter! (and the fail whale isn’t because of Rails)
  • Rails 3.0 was just released (8-31-10) so I get a clean, powerful start
  • See quote below…’nuff said

Ruby on Rails is astounding. Using it is like watching a kung-fu movie, where a dozen bad-ass frameworks prepare to beat up the little newcomer only to be handed their asses in a variety of imaginative ways.”
-Nathan Torkington, O’Reilly Program Chair for OSCON (emphasis mine)

You can learn more about my adventures with Ruby on Rails here.