I remember the lightning bolt striking me. Morning had not yet dawned as I laid, jet-lagged and wide awake in an unknown bedroom in Sofia, Bulgaria. My body said sleep, while my brain said wake up. Suddenly, the idea to end all ideas came charging through my brain. Neural pathways lit up as the idea clearly unfolded and presented itself. This idea was so striking, I jumped out of bed, fumbling through the dark room to find my tiny travel journal and start writing. I wrote as fast as I could, words spilling diagonally across the page as I attempted to keep up with the cavalcade of ideas simultaneously spilling out of my brain. Minutes later, satisfied that I had captured as much as I could, I put the pen down and fell into a deep sleep. Hours later, I laughed at the sideways scribbles. I also smiled. They were still gold.
For the next two years, I worked to bring this idea to life. This was, I believed, the perfect idea; the one that would bring me artistic and financial success as well as personal fulfillment. I set deadlines and met every one of them. I did every task necessary - I researched, composed, arranged, wrote dialogue, hired a marketing pro, edited, discussed with trusted colleagues and even trudged through a snowstorm to meet with a potential investor.
And then I stopped. No matter what I tried, I could not get going. I thought I needed a break. So I put the project aside for a month. I started up again, ready to present my great big artistic idea to the world. And then I stopped again.
This pattern continued for 6 months, which felt like an eternity. I was really frustrated with myself. Here was this great idea, ready to go and I could not move. What in the world was wrong with me?
Then, months later, sitting on my favorite beach, another lightning bolt struck me. This one showed me why I wasn't moving. I couldn't move. This project, as fantastic as it was, was not the right idea for me. I had the wrong set of skills to truly make it succeed. That's why I was stuck. This was a great idea. But it was a great idea for someone else.
Was this a waste of time? Heck no. During those two years, I improved skills and gained a tremendous amount of confidence. I also became much better at recognizing which of the many ideas that float through my brain are worth keeping. Would I do it again? Probably. Can I save you two years of your life? Let's try.
Here's what I learned:
- Have a physical home for your ideas. A computer file, a journal or an audio file on your device. When you have an idea, stick it in there. Write or say everything; don't edit. Put it all down. This makes the idea real. It also frees up your brain so you can use the free space to continue developing the idea.
- Leave it alone. Once you've recorded as much of the idea as you can, step back. Don't think about it and don't discuss it. Not yet.
- Sleep on it. If it is back first thing in the morning, and I mean first thing, like right after putting your feet on the floor, it's definitely worth pursuing. If it comes in the first two hours, I still honor it. If it doesn't come back before lunch, I let it go.
- Does this idea excite and scare you at the same time? Can you not stop thinking about it? That's probably a good one.
- Okay, you've recorded the idea somewhere. You've left it alone. You've slept on it. You're still excited about it. Time to develop a plan of attack. Write down 10 steps that you need to take to bring this idea to life.
- Set a deadline. Be reasonable. Put the date in your calendar.
- Now discuss the idea, but with no more than two people – one you trust and one who has experience in the field in which the idea is centered. Listen to them.
- You don't have to act on every good idea immediately. That's why recording ideas somewhere is so helpful. If it comes up again, you can refer to the idea as you've already developed it.
Using these guidelines, I've developed a much better filter for recognizing winning ideas that I enjoy having in my life. I'm also become much better at seeing ideas reach their full potential, and that, Creataviters, feels really good.
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