How to Start: Moving Your Good Idea Forward
Image credit: Leah on Etsy.com
During the many years I ran The Women’s Conference hosted by Maria Shriver I lived in the world of ideas.
Our team was continually conceiving of ways to tell inspiring stories, to deliver moving messages, to integrate the ideas of major partners, and to create a powerful experience for the thousands of people who attended our conference.
Ideas were in constant flow. Some ideas were born out of necessity and others were the result of random creative thought.
Some team members were conceiving of the brilliant ideas while others were executing them brilliantly. Often the same person was not doing both.
I have been thinking about ideas lately—how to know a good one and start to make it a reality.
I (probably like you) have ideas and inspirations from time to time that are brilliant in the moment, but as time passes the light fades and the idea is forgotten -– either because it wasn’t worthy of remembering or it gets lost among our daily obligations and responsibilities and we don’t take the first step to develop it.
How many of us cut off the legs of old pantyhose and just wore the tops under fitted dresses saying to a friend “we should make these to sell,” before the dawn of Spanx?
How many of us have thought that our workplace would be a perfect setting for a sitcom, eccentric co-workers and all, only to have our idea premiere as “The Office?”
If you are anything like me, your mental list of ideas for products or charitable efforts or books or businesses or films is long and...sitting in a drawer or on a crowded desktop.
Maybe you write down your ideas in a journal and review them periodically waiting for the perfect time to start. (There is no perfect time, of course.)
Or, maybe you write them on a napkin that somehow makes it into a pile on your desk that finds its way into a storage box that you tuck away for safekeeping.
If you have to move like I recently did and feel compelled to purge your storage boxes and uncover your momentary brilliance, most of the time you’re stunned by your lack of judgment about what’s a good idea and what’s not.
But then there are the ideas that stick -- the idea that you have more than once; the idea that keeps reintroducing itself to you; the idea that begs for a chance to be more.
You’re not sure it’s good but you can’t shake it either. It keeps tapping you on the forehead. That’s the idea to test and here is how to do it...in this order.
1. Write it down, stream of consciousness style, and then put it away for 24 hours. This might be a sentence or a paragraph or draft business plan. Whatever it is, commit it to print.
2. Do not mention it to anyone, not even your mother or manicurist or minister. Keep it under wraps.
3. Read it again, all the way through, and then spend 30 minutes cleaning it up. Your mantra is “clarity and simplicity.”
4. Answer these questions about your idea:
- Who is my audience? Who would buy it, use it, view it, read it?
- What is its purpose? Does it fill a void; does it improve on what’s already available; does it create a whole new market; does it benefit anybody other than me?
- How much time do I personally want to spend on developing the idea? It’s one thing to have the idea; it’s another to do what it takes to see it through. And it just might be enough for you to conceive of the idea, and then let someone else hatch it and raise it. Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. Some people are better at conception and others are better at execution.
If you have answered the questions above, you’ve started. You are now “in development” on a project.
5. Next, go talk about it. Find your “water cooler” if you don’t already have one at your workplace or gym. This is the time to test your idea on others, especially those people who don’t always agree with you. Put your idea out there; socialize it; have a conversation about it. Take your idea to Twitter or Facebook and pose a question to get some feedback about it. Revise accordingly. Making adjustments is an important part of this process. Again, write it down.
6. Now take a really hard look at your idea and consider the alternatives. Either you commit to develop it to the point of execution or you let it go. Ask yourself: Can I commit to working as long as it takes to make it a reality? The idea is just a small part of the innovation equation. It’s the spark but making it a reality requires careful, constant tending. Can I stay with it? Will I give up other activities to make time to see my idea through?
If you answer yes to the above, then take the next step that might be doing more research, developing an action plan, looking for an investor or a partner. Or, do you want to let it go?
Your idea is out there. It will land somewhere. And, if it is good, it will be acted upon -- if not by you, then by someone else. But you conceived of it. So, you get to decide to set it free or not. Own that.
If you decided to take the next step, to execute your idea, the hard work starts now.
If you decide to let it go you will just free up your mind for a new idea. And maybe that will be the one you see all the way through.
Be the incubator or be the activator; the spark or the kindling. Every realized idea requires both.
Erin Mulcahy Stein served as the president and executive director of The California Governor and First Lady’s Conference on Women from 2005 through 2011, overseeing the production of the annual Women’s Conference and six charitable programs benefitting women and families. Prior to 2005, Erin consulted to Los Angeles law firms while she raised her three sons. Erin began her law practice at Long & Levit, and continued at Weissmann, Wolff, Bergman, Coleman & Silverman, focusing on entertainment business litigation. In addition, Erin has served on the board of directors of several nonprofit organizations, including United Friends of the Children. Erin received her JD from University of San Diego School of Law, and her BA in English and Psychology from University of California, San Diego.