I discovered Scott Belksky’s video, How to Avoid the Idea Generation Trap, via Lifehacker last Sunday. The video’s caption caught my attention more than the title:
Ever find yourself jumping from idea to idea, hooked on the high of idea generation but never completing any one project? 99% Conference speaker Scott Belsky breaks down road-tested methods for seeing ideas through to the finish.
The first two minutes had me chuckling out loud. It’s as if he worked with one of my former managers. The ability to think big, dream big, and actually move forward with your idea in hopes of making it a reality are traits that some possess more than others. From my experience, people who possess these traits can be great leaders and are able to generate excitement about their ideas in others. However, once excitement wanes, and the reality of the hurdles and obstacles become more concrete, it becomes much easier to generate a completely new idea rather than tackling the obstacles the current idea has presented.
He begins by describing the hamster wheel type process in which the entrepreneurial and creative type consistently find themselves trapped:
- Dream Of New Life Changing Idea
- During Initial Excitement, Put Everything You Have Into Making Idea Reality
- Once Idea Makes it to the “Doldrums” Stage, Project Progress Plateaus
- Dream Up New Idea
- Rinse and Repeat
Belsky then provides tips to help move past the project plateau or doldrums stage, instead of starting the process over with a new idea:
Seek and Value Constraints
Without constraints, new ideas will constantly demand the attention and throw the project off task. I’ve personally witnessed this during new system design meetings. The project manager struggled to moved past the “If your system could do anything you wanted stage” of the process. Eventually, you have to decide what is out of bounds, so that everyone has a set a of rules and constraints to work within.
Break It Down
Increments -> Milestones -> Tasks
Belsky suggests figuring out how much time you will spend on predetermined increments (think time, not goals), determining measuring milestones to be reached along the way, and finally determining the necessary tasks to help you implement your idea. All these things need to be tangible.
Short Circuit Our Natural Reward System
Belsky says we are hard wired for short term rewards, such as a good grade on a test and a bi-weekly paycheck. But, once you embark on a new project, these short term rewards are stripped away. You may not have anyone see your work for months. You may not make any revenue for years. So what do you do?
Successful project managers create games to provide these short term rewards.
Empower the Skeptics
We typically don’t want to work with the Debbie Downers, but they need to be empowered to prevent new ideas from overtaking the current project.
Competition pushes us to action and keeps us engaged. Noah, a Brooklyn photographer had been taking a picture of himself every morning for the past six years. While browsing the web, he found a photographer elsewhere who had been doing the same thing for three years and was trying to figure out what to do with her photos. This pushed Noah to create one of the most widely viewed youtube videos of all time:
The Creative Process
- 1% Creative
- 99% Acquired Discipline
Belsky argues that The Creative Process is actually more about acquired discipline than it is idea generation. From my experience, the old adage that ideas are a dime a dozen is very true. The ability to successfully implement an idea is much more valuable.