“I’d like to create a new multi-media platform – an Oprah 2.0 – built around authenticity serving millennials,” said a good friend and fellow entrepreneur.
“I’d like to write a new Christmas movie about an elf who ends up in a random small town and changes that town’s perception of Christmas” said a coworker.
“My key driver is empathy and inspiring others to infuse kindness into every aspect of their lives. I’d like a job in empathy.” said a student.
These are someone’s ideas…BIG ideas, ideas with potential. What if…? But what often happens at the brink of invention when we’re discussing a new business venture, a creative endeavor, or an attempt to find better, more meaningful work?
The “challenge,” the “but”…some call it the “reality” check. I’ve seen this happen in two ways.
First, we often thwart our own creativity because we question what’s possible too quickly in the process.
Combine work and empathy? But can I make any money? And will this be a struggle?
This usually happens out of fear. It’s overwhelming to believe we can shift from idea to reality. What are all the steps involved?
Other times, we’re simply discussing ideas with family, friends and co-workers and a game of devil’s advocate ensues usually in the spirit of discussion and sharing knowledge.
Oprah 2.0? But there’s only one Oprah, and that’s just impossible. How will you do it?
A Christmas movie about an elf? But that already exists. How will you be different?
It’s fun and necessary to engage in discussion and pose a challenge. This encourages us to look at an idea from a different perspective.
However, I feel disappointed when I hear these conversations because the “but” immediately stifles innovation and creativity often leaving the person with the idea feeling like she has to defend herself or like there’s a flaw in her thinking.
So what could happen if we shift our approach when we have a new idea? Maybe nothing. Or maybe adventure ensues.
Next time you have an idea, no matter how big or small, and whether it’s wanting to pursue work that incorporates empathy and kindness or you want to be the next Oprah, follow these four steps.
1. Until Further Notice, Don’t Talk About It
I know, I know. You have this great idea and you can’t wait to share it. You want feedback, you want praise.
How did you think of that? You’re a genius!
Or again, maybe it’s just fun to discuss the idea with family and friends.
Keep it to yourself (for now). Based on what I said earlier sharing your idea right away may not serve you. On the contrary, it opens the door for “challenge” and if you already struggle with fear, “challenge” won’t help you, it will validate your fear.
Instead, take immediate action.
2. Explore Vs. Plan
All too often when we have an idea we get bogged down in the planning. How is it going to work? What do I need to do? What will it look like five years from now?
What if we let others guide us in the planning?
For example, my friend Tim found inspiration while visiting wine country in Europe. He loved the wine, but he noticed none of the wineries served food…and he wanted to eat! And there an idea to fill this gap was born.
Rather than plan any further, Tim should explore by calling five wineries in the area. He can ask questions to identify their needs and understand why they don’t serve food. Not only would this satisfy his curiosity, but what may result is a completely new solution, one he hasn’t thought of yet.
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert speaks extensively about the power of following your curiosity. She says:
“I didn’t desperately want a garden, understand. I wasn’t prepared to die for a garden, or anything. I just thought a garden would be nice. Curious. The whim was small enough that I could have ignored it. It barely had a pulse. But I didn’t ignore it. Instead, I followed that small clue of curiosity, and I planted some things.”
And this is how she came to write The Signature of All Things.
3. Brainstorm Freely
All too often our vision is limited by what we can or can’t do.
This is a personal pain point that I fight daily as I plan out my program Work Bigger. For example, technology isn’t my strong suit so I should not build a tech platform.
This makes sense to an extent. We should do work where we can exercise our strengths. However, this point of view can also limit the possibilities, and the chance to have a breakthrough. What could we discover, invent, realize if we had the courage to get wild with our ideas?
One method used in design thinking is flaring and focusing.
What I like about this method is that it helps manage the “but,” and the “reality check.” After a wild brainstorm session, we “focus” which means applying a reality check for our ideas among other criteria. But before we even get to that, we can allow ourselves to come up with as many crazy ideas as possible.
To do this effectively, find an open space. A large whiteboard and post it notes help so you can group ideas later on. More importantly, defer judgement during the brainstorm, go nuts, and write down as many ideas as possible.
Another option is to live the questions for a couple of days. Personally, I sometimes find it difficult to brainstorm under pressure. So instead I spend two to three days in thought thinking about my idea, meditating on it, and writing things down as they come up. I then revisit all my options and apply the “reality check” filter.
4. Create a “Braintrust”
While reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, I stumbled on the idea of a “braintrust.” At Pixar, filmmakers come together to provide candid feedback on their projects. The goal is to identify flaws in a product and help projects make the shift from mediocre to great. When discussing the process of true creativity, Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar says the ideas don’t start out great. It’s only through feedback and constant iteration that greatness is achieved.
Achieving a breakthrough is unlikely to be done alone. Others’ perspectives are key as it allows us to draw on their experiences and knowledge.
You may not need a braintrust right away, but you need a group of people who are solution oriented and have your best interest at heart to help you take your idea to the next level.
In Conclusion: To Go From Idea to Reality
Let’s be mindful of how we approach the idea process. What if rather than simply engaging in discussion and posing unseen challenges, we engage in more action? What could happen?
Creativity resides deep within us. We just have to access it.