the next steps for developing you big idea
What should I do if I think I’ve got the idea for the next big thing?
This is something that I was asked the other day by a client in Holland. “I’ve got a great idea that the world needs. What should I do next?” He actually had taken a couple of steps, part of his idea involved some technical assistance and after consulting with an engineer he was quoted that to develop the idea would cost over a $100,000 dollars! Obstacle no. 1. Money.
There are many obstacles to realising ideas, which is exactly why there are not that many innovators out there. Innovating takes some hard work. The good news is when we know what the most common obstacles are going to be when executing and realising an idea we can create a strategy to work around them.
In this post I’m going to take you through some of the key critical phases to taking an idea from concept through to market. This as you can imagine, would easily fill up a book (of which I’ve written one specifically for this purpose before - called Ideas with Legs), I’ve also created a nifty one page flow chart on how to help you realise an idea from scratch step by step.
Let’s talk about the first steps and this is where most of us get caught up on.
When we have a good idea, the most basic step we want to take is to capture it by writing it or recording it in some fashion. Really? You might ask, you’d be surprised as to how many good ideas have been lost to a weak memory.
So we’ve written the idea down, what next? There are many instances and examples of people who have been working on the same idea from different parts of the world, only to find out that the other person protects and registers their idea as a patent before the other. This means we want to look at protecting our idea if it’s protectable.
We can do this through applying for a patent or a trademark if it’s more of a visual/ marketing idea. There are many instances where we will not need to go down this route (for example it’s an internal process that no one outside of our world will know about it).
Before racing off to a patent attorney or beginning a patent search you can do a couple of things that can help legitimise your original idea and the date it was conceived. A simple activity is to document your idea and send it via registered post to yourself. Once you receive the package, leave it all sealed up and keep all the documentation with it that proves when it was sent and received. I’ve done this plenty of times, it’s cheap and can help in any documentation if ever required to prove creation around an idea or trademark at a particular date.
Okay, now we’ve got a basic idea that’s in the post coming back to us what next. If you think patenting an idea is what will be required down the road it’s important to start the process early as it takes time to complete the registration. Depending on which country you are in filing a patent can range from $300 - $500. Some ideas might need multiple patents and you are likely to want to file for registering in a number of countries.
Filing a patent is relatively straight forward, but getting one has become made more difficult in some countries especially the United Sates where following the dot-com boom where the Patents Office was inundated with a plethora of vague and ambiguous patent applications, they created tougher stipulations as to what is designated as an original idea and the type of validation that is required to prove it. Bottom line is, you need to have thought through your idea thoroughly and know the 'ins and outs' of it if you want to get a patent.
Next we want to be sure that there are no existing competing patents so a patent search is a great place to start. These are not that difficult to conduct or alternatively you could engage the services of a patent search team that may be part of a patent attorney service or separate to it. The same activities apply to trademark searches, though these are far simpler to conduct.
Until recently China was in the past like the wild west where everyone ignored patents but now with their own patent service they are now playing the game with everyone else meaning that you can have some protection over there as well.
Now that we have some protection under the way, we might want to start to think about the dollars required to make it happen. Do I use my money, someone else money or steal some money? Please don’t rob a bank, there are however many scrupulous operators in the venture capital world. Then again, if they are taking a risk in funding an unproven idea they will demand a very high return.
There are a few option to funding the execution and development of an idea.
1. Do it yourself
2. Crowd fund
3. Venture capital
4. Partner ventures
5. Selling the idea to a organisation with the funds to develop it
Before we break these down something worth considering is what’s the minimal viable version of your idea that you can create quickly. A prototype will help communicate your idea, no matter who you’re pitching to or trying to communicate the value of your idea to.
The D.I.Y funding is self explanatory, you put up the dough to pay for your executing you idea. Remember that building your idea is only one part of the challenge, you’re going to need to market it, sell it and deliver it too. You might be able to organisae a business loan if you’ve got a track record or some strong equity.
The greatest thing to happen for inventors in the last 15 years or so is the development of digital crowd funding sites such as Kickstarter. There’s a plethora of sites out there now to choose from , but in case you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know what I’m talking about generally, a crowd funding site operates by you creating a pitch that documents your idea and setting a target amount in funding that you are looking for to develop it and in return for people pledging various amounts of money, you give them a special offer in relation to the new product you are developing. It’s estimated that the crowd funding movement makes up over 30% of all venture capital investments today totalling to some $XXX billion.
If you’ve got the right idea and the good to deliver it people will be willing to loan you money for a big piece of the pie. The higher the risk the more they will want in exchange. Venture capitalists are looking for a speedy execution and speedy return of their idea. Pitching is a crucial part of this route as the VC is keen to know, what’s it like, how’s it work in basics, why’s it different/ unique and what are the potential returns versus the risks. Risks might include the number of unknowns, technical skills, feasibility and the sort.
Let’s partner up
A tangent off the crowd funding is some organisations that are willing to help develop the idea in conjunction with you. One such organisation is called Quirky.com. How Quirky works is a little bit different to the crowd funding model in that you pitch your product idea with a big emphasis on what problem doesn’t it. solve, why is it uniques and what value it brings to the customer. If they like the idea they will start to help develop it for you and eventually sell it to the social platform they have of supporters and potential customers (this is the crowd funding part of it). The more people who pledge to buy the product the more products they will manufacture. As opposed to building millions of your products the emphasis is on smaller production numbers. The more you are involved in the development of the product the more your share in the profits increases.
Sell the idea without developing it
Believe it or not, there a number of people who do this for. living, they create a great idea, they protect the intellectual property IP and then they pitch the idea to a suitable organisation to take further. This takes a lot of work in terms of having the commercial status that people will be willing to sit down at the table with you for you to pitch your idea and you also have to have iron clad IP agreements in place. You may choose to license your IP or sell it outright.
The wall we all encounter
When it comes to realising ideas there are always going to be obstacles. I believe that all obstacles can be classified as either being behavioural or logistical, and that within these two main groups there are six subgroups of obstacles.
To deal with behavioural obstacles (that is, the obstacles we’ve created from our thinking, feelings and actions) we need to take a leaf from the behavioural sciences and become a psychologist of sorts. On the other hand, dealing with logistical obstacles (such as having a deficiency in knowledge or financial and time constraints) requires the mind-set of a modern day logistics project manager.
The six subgroups of the two main obstructions are:
These six obstructions—or ‘anti-creators’ as I like to call them—are something we all face from time to time. These anti-creators are not exclusive to creating ideas, so you may very well discover that dealing with these anti-creators will have a big impact on other aspects of your life.
The important thing about these six anti-creators is that they are all quite common and all surmountable. With the right awareness and skill, you’ll find that realising your idea is much easier than expected.
The unfortunate issue that you can face as a creator is that the greater the potential size of your idea, the bigger the anti-creators you face. Our anti-creators are generally in proportion to the size of our idea.
A simple, everyday idea such as a new kind of meal for dinner or a new angle on a project at work will therefore generally have low anti-creator resistance. On the other hand, a revolutionary or life-changing idea that involves significant resources and personal investment will often have anti-creators of overwhelming size. Understanding each of the anti-creators not only reduces their magnitude, it also makes getting past them much easier and even enjoyable.
When it comes to making ideas happen and dealing with our anti-creators, virtually any means (within reason) is justifiable. When you make necessary adjustments in your thinking and behaviour to make your ideas happen, you may find yourself the target of often unfair criticism and irritation from people close to you. And while these changes may disturb others they will ultimately work for you and your creative output.
To tackle your anti-creators you’ll need to be brave and resolute in your commitment to your ideas. You’ll have to take physical and emotional steps to get you there. It is worth it.
Okay, let’s find out how you handle each one these anti-creators one by one. Chances are, you may be feeling that you don’t quite know what to do next with your idea and how to do it. So let’s start with your behaviour and more specifically your attitude.
Dealing with anti-creator no. 1: attitude
Your attitude can become an anti creator: when you don’t believe you can do it and feel that don’t deserve it, you consequently don’t feel motivated to make it happen. Our attitude is a combination of our internal and external worlds: beliefs, self-talk, self-image or identity on the inside; physiology and body language, verbal communication, actions and the things we do, commitment and results on the outside.
There are many different variables that can affect our attitude in life and subsequently how we go about making our ideas happen or how we end up letting them slide away. Without a doubt, one of the most important things we can look at is how our internal and external worlds work together, whether they align or conflict with each other. More than any other factor, the element that influences and in turn reinforces how we regard ourselves, what we believe we are capable of and therefore our results is the internal world and our thinking, or self-talk.
Thinking is power
Research has shown that if we believe we are confident, productive and able to deliver then we are more likely to be so. In many ways, our beliefs are really just constructions of our mind that filter how we think and feel about all experiences in life. The good news is, once we know that thoughts and feelings and beliefs are just that—constructions of the mind—we can do something about them.
Failure occurs when we have the knowledge, skills, desire and talent to make it happen but lack the vision and optimism to get going. The effect: we either stop shortly after we have started or don’t even start at all. Optimism plays a large part in the mind of the creator. The pessimist who thinks bad things are going to happen usually finds out that the worst does happen and then gives up, while the creator with an optimistic mind-set has the ability to see a bad event as merely a setback. Obviously, a dose of pessimism is called for when evaluating our ideas (which we cover in Part 4: The Execution phase) but as a general rule pessimism gets in the way of making our ideas happen. When we find ourselves hitting a wall, possibly when we are starting a project or at a challenging or critical part of the work, being optimistic and changing our thinking is one of the keys to removing this block.
To succeed as a creator you need to be able to see negative situations as short-term challenges that can be overcome. For a creator, there are no real setbacks just more challenges. Embracing an optimistic outlook creates persistence and determination, both of which are vital ingredients in the creative process. As unconventional priest and writer, Walter Elliott, said: ‘Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races, one after the other.’
If you’re saying to yourself that you must have been born a pessimist and can’t change then it’s time to think again. While pessimism is a learnt behaviour from your childhood and teenage years and can reflect how you see your chances of creating your ideas, the good news is that optimism can also be learnt. The father of positive psychology, Dr Martin Seligman, sheds light on this important topic in his book Learned Optimism, by looking at the mind-set of the successful salesperson. The persistent salesperson knows that a sale is just around the corner and is unaffected by rejections and setbacks. For them these are simply short-term challenges to work through to not only reach the goal but also become stronger in the process. Overcoming challenges builds self-esteem, another aspect of attitude.
The higher your self-esteem, the better your attitude and the more focused are your actions towards making your ideas happen. The lower your self-esteem, the lower your self-confidence and belief in your ideas, and the less focused will be your actions.
Obviously, self-esteem impacts on your ability to make your ideas happen. If you can’t believe in yourself and you don’t have any confidence to take action, then it’s highly unlikely you’ll make your ideas come to fruition.
The best way to deal with pessimism, low frustration tolerance as well as low self-esteem is to use the ABC model described below.
Learn your ABCs
Our thoughts drive our feelings and emotions. The more erratic thoughts are, the more unpredictable the results. If you can train yourself to think the ‘right’ thoughts (that is, useful and appropriate thoughts) that steer you towards realising your goal, you can alter the way you feel, behave and create.
During the 1960s, psychologist Albert Ellis developed the cognitive behaviour model that aims to re-program negative thinking and behavioural patterns and that many psychologists use today. Essentially, Ellis got tired of having patients complain about their life and wanting him to solve their problems. His response was ‘stop thinking wrong and start thinking right’. Ellis understood that our self-talk, our thinking about ourselves was the key driver to our feelings and behaviours. If our thinking wasn’t working for us, he concluded, we needed to stop it and change it.
The ABCs is an effective technique Ellis devised to stop people thinking ‘wrong’ and start thinking ‘right’. The more you use the ABCs, the more you can use your thinking to help deal with any self-defeating attitude and start creating what you want. To show you how the ABCs work I’ve used some of the thinking I had to change when it came to writing this book:
Activating event: Write down and describe, just as you would think about it, the event which creates the attitude. Avoid evaluating your thoughts, just write them down in the words you would say to yourself as they run through your mind, for example: ‘My book’s still not finished and I’ve been working on it for months and months.’
Beliefs: Write down the beliefs you have about yourself and your conclusions about the reasons for the activating event, for example:’ ‘I think I’m not smart enough’, ‘I know it’s too hard’ and ’I’m wasting time.’ ‘I don’t know what to do’ and ‘No one will want to read my book when I finish it.’ Aim to record thoughts that express beliefs, and ignore feelings.
Consequent emotions: Write down how you feel and how you will feel if you keep thinking this way, for example: ‘I feel angry, dejected and like a loser.’ ‘I will end up wasting the rest of the day eating food, sulking about doing nothing.’
Dispute irrational beliefs: We’re good at defending ourselves if someone else is attacking us, but usually we suck at defending ourselves against our own thinking, especially our irrational beliefs. We need to learn to observe our communication with ourselves and defend ourselves from ourselves by coming to objective conclusions. To do this, find the evidence for and against your belief and make accurate statements, for example: ‘ I’ve written and published a great book successfully before and it took close to a year to write.’ ‘What I’ve written is already substantial in size and quality. I am more than 75 per cent complete.’
Finally, create a real disputing statement based on these facts, for example: ‘I know I have the ability, determination and resources at my disposal to make this book happen.’
(Positive) Effects: Now write down some rational beliefs, alternative possibilities to your original faulty thoughts behind the activating event. For example: ‘I have been speaking at more conferences this year, while writing this book, than ever before, so I have actually had less time to write.’ Or ‘I have been testing a lot of my theories with clients through consulting and running workshops, all of which takes time. And although it’s not time spent writing it is the precursor to it and essential.’
Write down how you feel after you’ve questioned your faulty thinking and beliefs to see if you have been energised by the event. For example: ‘I feel better realising that I have done more than I thought, other than writing the book, and I’m now putting my energy into making it all happen.’
Talk your talk
Your attitude is reflected in the choice of words you use to communicate with yourself and others. The ‘anti-creator’ uses words like ‘can’t’, ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘have to’ and creates unwanted stress. Find out for yourself how these small words affect you. Say: ‘I should do this. I can’t do this.’ Can you feel how this impacts on your motivation? Remember: thoughts drive your feelings and behaviour, and using words like this will generate ‘anti-creator’ behaviour and feelings.
Creating a ‘can do’ attitude sometimes means changing our thinking and the language we use. Replace the anti-creator words with ‘I can’, ‘I could’, ‘I want to’, ‘I like to’ and ‘I am doing this’. Say to yourself ‘I choose to do this’ and become aware how this changes your motivation.
The anti-creator also uses small phrases such as ‘It’s too hard’ or ‘I don’t know what to do’. Instead, challenge yourself to be specific. For example, challenge ‘It’s too hard’ by using ‘The one thing I am specifically finding too hard right now is … ’. Challenge ‘I don’t know what to do’ with ‘At this point in time, with all the information at hand, my best decision and course of action will be to … ’. As you can see, we always have a choice in our thinking and our attitude.
Walk your talk
Your body language is much the same as words. The anti-creator body language is one of defeat: slumped shoulders, torso sagging forward, head down, arms crossed or in pockets, shuffling feet. When you notice your body doing any of these, be it sitting, standing or walking, simply do the opposite: straighten your back, square your shoulders, lift your head and your feet etc. As simple as it sounds, you’ll notice an energetic lift almost immediately.
Make up stories
Another component to our attitude is based on our perception of the results we have created in the past, which in turn impacts on the results we are getting today. How we interpret our everyday results directly affects our thinking and therefore our feelings and behaviour. The anti-creator within us will constantly mull over past mistakes we’ve made and use them as fuel to reason why to not do something. Mistakes in the past become an excuse for non-action in the present; they may subconsciously stop us from making ideas happen today.
Failure is fun
We all make mistakes. Yet few of us acknowledge how much we actually learn from our mistakes. So the more we embrace the huge benefits in making mistakes as a part of the creative process, the more we change the usual story of hardship and misery. The more you look back at an event and see the learning in it, the more your mind adapts itself to moving on from any setbacks. This reduces the fear of failure. Thomas Edison saw his thousand-plus attempts to create the light bulb not as mistakes, but merely as thousands of tests to see which solution would not work. With an attitude like Edison’s even failure can be fun!
Do this: Ten biggest mistakes
Make a list of what you consider the ten biggest mistakes or failures in your life (whether they are personal or professional). Next to each one, write down at least one thing you learnt from the mistake.
DIY success story
If our beliefs and patterns in life reflect the stories we have made up about ourselves—which are based on how we review any given event in our mind and not necessarily on what actually happened—why not change the stories? We can utilise the notion that our beliefs, patterns and stories are just in our mind or ‘are a construction of our mind’. However the mind is extremely powerful, regardless of whether what it creates is based on reality or fiction, so saying ‘just in our mind’ sounds a little dismissive of this power; we do, though, have the choice to reinvent ourselves (if we want to).
The only hurdle we have to overcome when we make up our new, empowering stories is our ability to convince ourselves not to believe. If we say something about our ability and experience that we know contains no ounce of truth because we have never experienced it, or feel that we don’t possess any of the needed skills, talents or abilities, then we will consider the new story a fantasy. To reinvent the story we need to create evidence that proves to ourselves we can do it.
Changing our ‘can’t do’ attitude is easy when we utilise the pattern-detecting ability of the brain to re-pattern our thinking. Re-patterning isn’t brainwashing, it’s simply a technique of changing 1. how we see a situation 2. how we think about that situation and 3. what actions we take.
‘The can’t do’ attitude is usually backed up by the sabotage team, ‘don’t know how’ and ‘don’t have the experience’. When we re-pattern the brain we are purposefully looking into our past for skills we already possess in other areas that could be applied to the activity at hand. While we may not have the exact skills, if we look hard enough we will find useful skills that are transferable to the new task or activity. For example, I might think I need specialised research skills to complete this book, and may feel daunted or overwhelmed by this project. After a bit of prodding, my unconscious mind realises I actually did do lots of research at university as well as in a number of my career positions. Are these research skills transferable? Of course! All I need to do is access the experience of having used the skills for my pressing project.
To help speed up this process and make the certainty of your experience available to you as a reality you need to feel whenever your ‘can’t do’ attitude wants to take charge. I have adapted a technique developed by Dr John Grinder, co-originator of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), whose tools in the hands of capable NLP practitioners have for years helped people re-pattern their thinking and consequently change their lives.
This exercise helps to generate a super state that can be used any time you want to be more resourceful and creative. Focus on the three mind-sets that help you realise your ideas: creativity, analysis and productivity.
1. First, find a small movement you can intentionally do and that involves exerting some pressure so that it can trigger the super state. My trigger is pushing my little finger into my thumb. Try it. If it feels familiar, do it the other way around and push your thumb into your little finger. Still feels familiar? What about pulling on your earlobe? Find something you would not normally do, that will not be triggered accidentally but requires you to deliberately engage it.
2. Focus on your area of creativity, find a time where you came up with a creative idea. It doesn’t matter when or where it happened. It could be that great idea for your friend’s 21st birthday party many years ago, the powerful proposal you wrote last week, or the holiday to a brand new, exotic destination you are already planning for next year. Close your eyes, and step into the event. Make sure you relive the experience through your own eyes, and hear with your own ears. If you see yourself from the outside, shift into your body. It is important that you actually step back into the memory and feel what it feels like to be creative.
3. As you re-experience the event, notice how the feeling of being creative, the excitement of coming up with a great idea is getting stronger. When it is just about to peak (and you will intuitively know when this is so), quickly push your trigger for a moment: squeeze your fingers together or pull on your earlobe with a quick movement. Then let go, look around the room and remember another event. Repeat numerous times.
4. Now, find experiences that come to mind when you think about being really analytical and research-orientated, e.g. reading a book for new ideas and background information, heading to the library for a project, or a conversation with someone where you gathered a lot of information that helped you reach your goal. Now repeat step 3 with this analytical experience in mind.
5. Next, re-discover times when you’ve felt super productive and gotten things done on or ahead of time, e.g. getting a bid in to buy a home before anyone else, cleaning the house in record time before a guest arrived, handing in a paper before it was due or even arriving early for an appointment. Again, repeat step 3.
6. Finally, after many repeats, test your trigger and notice how your state changes. The more examples you have put into your trigger, the better the trigger will work when you need to get into your super state.
While creating this trigger may take some time, it will eventually help you move to a point where you literally have your subconscious abilities at your fingertips. One squeeze, and you find yourself ready to face the challenges that confront you as you create your ideas.
Still stuck? Take a walk
Obstacles are best faced with a fresh perspective. Simply walking away from a problem and coming back to it enables us to look at it from a new perspective and see the possibilities and new ways to overcome it. Whatever the obstacle, whatever the attitude, we can always spin it to look at it in from a new direction.
Dealing with anti-creator no. 2: procrastination
Who in the world hasn’t procrastinated and avoided a necessary task that needed to be completed? And why do we do it so often? The main reason we procrastinate is that we don’t want to spend time doing things that are unpleasant or uncomfortable. Sometimes our mind decides the task will be more unpleasant than it actually is. Have you ever dreaded going to the dentist and kept putting it off, only to finally get an appointment and find that your teeth were fine?
Procrastination may not only make us feel miserable but it can kill our ideas, opportunities and dreams. The consequences of procrastination can affect our health, finances, career, relationships and personal development.
Not all of us will experience procrastination on the same level. Some of us may experience procrastination that is uncomfortable—that is, it creates a few inconveniences that we can live with. Others may experience procrastination that is painful and can cause us and others damage that we can still repair. At an extreme level, however, we may experience procrastination that is unbearable—this is where procrastination creates physical pain that freezes us and prevents us from moving forward.
I’m not a psychologist, so if you are suffering from painful or extreme procrastination I strongly encourage you to find professional support. A psychological intervention may be necessary. If, however, you find that you are suffering from uncomfortable procrastination here are the main strategies to help you deal with it. 1. become procrastination aware and 2. get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Watch the clock
Procrastination wastes a lot of time, so much so that you often don’t know where it goes. The more you can see how much time you spend procrastinating, the more motivated you will be to do something about it. Remember, time lost is time lost forever.
I used to be a major procrastinator until I got wind of tracking the time I spent procrastinating, that is the amount of time I was wasting avoiding doing what needed to be done. What I found was that even if I spent my time doing a supposedly fun activity I couldn’t enjoy it to its fullest; in fact, it felt pretty ordinary because I knew I was procrastinating and spending time doing something I shouldn’t have been doing.
Part of my way of dealing with this was to ask myself the 100 per cent dedication question: am I dedicated 100 per cent to this activity right now? If not, what is the procrastination that needs to be dealt with in order for me to enjoy this activity 100 per cent?
Let’s face it, do you want to watch a stimulating movie when the whole time your mind is thinking of something else? How ordinary can a relaxing day at the beach feel when you really need to be doing something else?
While I’m not condoning ruling out recreation, I want you to think of putting 100 per cent commitment and enjoyment into the task you are doing. There is a major difference between watching a show on TV because you have finished a task that was rewarding in itself and mindless channel surfing that keeps you from doing what needs to be done. You can purposefully play a computer game for an allocated time to take your mind off something and allow your unconscious mind to process while you focus on the challenges of the game; or you can numbly keep your mind busy with playing a game that has no specific purpose other than to help you avoid the real task at hand.
A simple way to help keep you on track with some of the less pleasant activities involved in creating your idea is to apply the Premack principle. This psychological principle essentially tells us that we will perform a less desirable activity in order to complete a more enjoyable one. An example can be seen when a teacher rewards students who have completed an intense study session by playing an educational game or showing an educational movie. The students’ motivation to complete the challenging study session will increase because they know they will then be able to participate in the fun activity.
In what ways can you apply the Premack principle to your project?
Part of being procrastination-aware is the ability to check if your goal or idea is reasonable and realistic. Some procrastination is similar to perfectionism in that it arises from having unrealistic expectations. Do your goals need to be more reasonable? Are you attempting to bite off much more than you can chew with regards to your expectations, your resources, your timing etc?
Finally, if you do know that your idea is realistic and doable, it may help to adopt a ‘now or never’ mind-set because tomorrow may never come. What if you never got the opportunity to do that one thing that’s been burning in your mind, or to realise that goal that could change your life or even the course of history? In that case, it really is now or never!
Do this: Procrastination
Think about how much time you spend avoiding getting on with the job. Write down what you do when you spend your time procrastinating. What does it prevent you from doing and what are the consequences?
Now write out your ‘now or never’ list and start to handle the easier items on the list first.
Have you noticed that those who make their ideas happen have the ability to handle discomfort? The ones who realise their ideas embrace discomfort and compared to the rest of the population they are few and far between. Most of the population hang out in a space where it’s mostly nice and easy without too much discomfort. The world of the creator can be filled with discomfort, frustration and awkwardness, feelings that come with the territory: there are simply no guarantees. Yet, creators somehow manage to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
There is tension in creating ideas. And as creative consultant, Robert Fritz, says in his book The Path of Least Resistance, tension seeks resolution. The stronger the tension, the more likely we are prone to resolving it the easiest way possible. Unfortunately, the way we deal with tension is not by creating our idea; we usually resolve it by saying something like ‘It’s too hard today, I’ll start tomorrow instead.’ One of the reasons our mind wants to resolve tension is that it craves order above all else. The human mind wants to know where everything is, how to do things and control the situation. It makes sense of everything through looking for familiar patterns and through this knowing becomes calm and orderly.
Creating your idea challenges the order of the known the mind craves; creative thinking effectively creates chaos in the mind by exploring unknown patterns that the mind would love to resolve as soon as possible. Left to its own devices, it will therefore resolve this chaos by reverting back to the original conditions of calm and orderly known patterns, which effectively means giving up on the creative project. The good news is, once you understand this you can start to embrace your discomfort and push yourself forward by closing the back door to your original comfort zone. To do this you need to:
ask yourself ‘What do I want that is different?’
become comfortable with the resulting tension
ask ‘How does my tension want to resolve itself?’
constantly reaffirm to yourself that you will not allow your mind to relax back into comfort, that you will persist with pursuing your idea until you’ve realised it
know that a new order will ultimately arrive after all the chaos.
The relationship between tension and procrastination is called Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT), a term coined by pioneering psychologist Albert Ellis. LFT explains the frustration we feel when we are trying to make our ideas happen and when something stops us or slows us down. The lower our frustration tolerance the higher the chances you’ll procrastinate or give up. So by accepting that challenges are part of the process we can increase our tolerance for the bumpy road we travel. [insert pic 036 pic to be near above or below paragraph]
When we are caught up in procrastination we are so engrossed in the present worry of having to go through the discomfort that it not only heightens our ill-feeling it also stops us from thinking about how good it would feel to finish the task. The best way to increase your tolerance for frustration is to immerse yourself in it and then step beyond it
Do this: Observe from within
Close your eyes and think of a task on which you are procrastinating. Make sure you look through your eyes and hear through your ears. If you observe yourself from the outside, step back into your body. Become aware of how it feels to not do the task.
Now focus on the discomfort of having to do it. Imagine yourself doing that task. Imagine doing whatever you need to do to finish the task and know (or simply pretend) that you have what it takes to do it.
Now project yourself into the future, to a point where you have just finished the task.
Feel what it feels like to have completed the task. Whatever that sensation is, choose to experience the feeling fully, and really immerse yourself in it. Notice what you’re doing. Are you doing something else now? Do you have more momentum to go forward?
After you completed the task on which you’ve been procrastinating write a few sentences about how you feel. Has the worry or discomfort disappeared? Does it feel average, good or fantastic?
Challenge yourself by applying yourself to one frustrating activity each day. The more resistant you become, the better you can handle the discomfort.
Dealing with anti-creator no. 3: perfectionism
Perfectionism is a form of paralysis that comes about by setting unrealistic goals, unrealistic expectations and unrealistic standards for our life. This creates a fear of failure and indecision. If the perfectionist is lucky enough to start work on their idea, it’s unlikely they will finish it.
Striving for perfection has a time and place in the creative process, and that’s at the end. At the beginning perfectionism paralysis creates so much fear and anxiety that it stops us from starting our project in the first place.
This isn’t to say that perfectionists don’t accomplish things. When they do it is usually by perfecting a product or service someone else already has been working on, not necessarily by creating and realising a new idea.
Writing my first book was relatively easy; the second book, however, was constantly thwarted by perfectionism and the thoughts that came with it. Having a book internationally published was a big achievement, how could I ever do that again, let alone improve on that result? Was I really worthy of writing the next book? What if people wouldn’t read it? Music recording artists will often talk about how much longer it takes to record their second album—if they ever get to it. If they do get to it, it often lacks the freshness and creativity of the first one. One of the most prolific and poplar pop artists in the 1980s was Richard Marx. I recall an interview with him where he attributed much of his success to being able to write album after album, while most people stopped at just one.
Fear of failure is greater for a perfectionist than it is for anyone else. Perfectionists not only have problems dealing with feedback from others, the feedback loop they have set up for themselves means they are their own worst critics and that they create many self-imposed barriers to making ideas happen.
There are two main strategies to deal with perfectionism. 1. having a reality check and 2. taking action.
Living in a perfect world 24/7 is impossible. Everyone makes mistakes of some kind every day. The most successful people on the planet will all agree that they make mistakes. Even successful organisations make mistakes. Every manufacturer, from Sony to Nokia, has a failure rate factored into the manufacturing process. They expect this to be roughly on the order of 3 to 5 per cent. If this is good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.
One way to start dealing with perfectionism is to work on something where it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work. Risk taking is a big step for those experiencing the perfectionism freeze. The more small risks you take, the easier it will be to embrace bigger risks. For example, rearrange the layout of a room. Whether you succeed or not, look at what you have gained from the exercise. What works? What doesn’t? If we look at the evidence we will probably find that the number of positive benefits outweighs the negatives. In any case, you can always change the room back if you want to.
Another way to allow yourself a few mistakes is to look at the quality level you accept from yourself. Adopting a ‘draft’ mentality can successfully convert a self-restricting perfectionist into a prolific creator. Picasso produced an average of one painting a day for his entire adult life. He was definitely prolific but not necessarily perfect. It was his prolificness that enabled him to rip up the many mediocre drafts and become the outstanding artist who produced groundbreaking masterpieces. For your next report, idea, or project stamp it ‘draft’ then purposefully make some mistakes, and notice your ability to get more done without the anxiety that comes with expecting the result to be perfect.
While being less than perfect can take some practice for a perfectionist, it can be liberating when you start to feel the freedom it gives you. Learn to think of mistakes simply as part of the design process.
Do this: Development flags
Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ Identify what you think the mistakes are and call them development flags. Then ask someone else to find the areas that need development and ask what they think could to be done about them.
Time to take action
Now that you have discovered the value of adopting the draft mentality you need to make some decisions that will enable you to take action. To the perfectionist, decision is almost a dirty word. Indecisiveness is the hero and saboteur of the perfectionist. The perfectionist creates a host of confusing ideas and steps based on avoiding failure rather than achieving what they wanted to achieve in the first place. A perfectionist fails to make decisions and act because they are waiting for that one perfect choice that is 100 per cent failsafe and comes with a money-back guarantee. Unfortunately, this kind of insurance doesn’t exist when it comes to creating and realising ideas.
Indecision is the result of feeling that we don’t have enough information to make the safest decision. One way to counter this is to collect as much information as possible. Unfortunately we rarely get all the information we need for a 100 per cent foolproof decision. All we can do is make our decisions based on the best information we have at the time. The mantra to counteract perfectionism is ‘Based on the best information I have at this time I have decided to … ’.
Any decision is good even if it ends up being the wrong decision. Sitting on the fence and doing nothing won’t take you closer to realising your ideas. When looking back at a decision we always seem to have 20/20 vision. What matters most is making the decision at the moment with the information in front of us.
The term logistics seems to have gone through a brand reinvention in the last ten years or so. Today, logistics seems to be the tag line for parcel and package delivery services all around the world. For me, it simply means finding a solution by gaining the knowledge of what, when and how to do it, while finding the time and working with the available resources (money). In other words, logistics becomes a big issue for us when we are clueless, timeless and resourceless.
No clue, no time and no money are excuses often used to defend a plan that’s not moving ahead. Sometimes we stumble because we believe we don’t have the knowledge, experience or intelligence to do something. Interestingly enough, some of the best creations often start out as one idea and become something else along the way, all because the creator didn’t know how to bring about the original idea. Not knowing how is part of the magic of creating. The alchemy is a combination of trust, experimentation, determination and effort. The path may wander but it will get you there. If your idea was easy to execute, chances are everyone would be doing it. Remember that success requires work.
Dealing with anti-creator no. 4: knowledge
Even if you don’t know where or how to start, just start. Even if you currently feel incapable, know that you are in fact capable. Feeling incapable is a common self-doubt that can be easily changed. We are all able to achieve what we want. It’s usually just a matter of changing the way we think about ourselves, acknowledging our strengths, understanding our unique intelligence and making the most of everything we do. Remember Gardner’s work on unique intelligence I mentioned in Chapter 1, ‘Want it’ to help you work in your strengths. Realise that you can and that very decision will initiate the first step towards realising your idea.
Know-how is ask-how
Sometimes we fall into the trap of giving up on our ideas when we don’t know the answers because we think it’s too hard. As soon as you identify where you lack knowledge and start asking appropriate questions, things will get easier. While learning and understanding takes time, it takes less time than mulling over things and wondering what to do.
Developing the ‘how to’ of something really involves the ability to ask ‘How do I do this?’ You start by asking yourself this question and then ask people along the way to help steer you in the right direction. Gaining knowledge is merely the act of acquiring information and finding the way to apply it. Many of us fall into the trap of working in isolation and fail to ask for help or look for the most obvious solution available.
The more we admit that we don’t know, the clearer the path to execution becomes. The more questions we ask of others and ourselves, the sooner the answers will appear. The next time you’re stuck, write down the problem or the questions you need answered. Ask, ‘What would someone else do in my situation?’ or simply ask the people around you—colleagues, friends and family. Communicating can bring help from places we never thought of so speak up, otherwise no one will ever know.
Looking for answers means research, and the better the questions we have, the easier it is to get the most useful information.
The route to finding knowledge is no longer the guarded secret of librarians or researchers. For a start, the Internet has opened the doors to a world of information and expert advice, all available at our fingertips. Internet search engines are a fast and effective means of research. Any search engine will get you heading in the direction of gathering valuable and practical information if you know what to ask for.
If you need to develop the skill of information gathering to realise your dream, get some training. It’s that simple. There are home-study courses, local adult education courses, online courses in many different areas. Check out the resources page to help steer you in the right direction for search engines and online courses.
Make it up
Then there are times when we just have to make it up because no one has taken the path before us. In these situations, when we are stuck for what to do, our intuition is often our best guide.
Do this: Intuition exercise
Ponder for a moment on how much of what you have created in the past involved simply making it up. Use your intuition about what you need and try whatever it tells you.
Dealing with anti-creator no. 5: time
A strong component of arranging logistics is to find the time to work on your project. How many times have you said ‘I’d love to do that if I only had the time’? Time is a commodity that can be traded just like oil or coffee. Time is immensely valuable, and the more you treat it like a commodity the more effectively you can use it to your advantage.
Where most people go wrong with utilising their time is in how they use it and waste it. Most wasted time is spent on the least important and least urgent issues in life—for example watching hour upon hour of mindless television. Even at work you will find countless situations where your time seems to be filled with unimportant, non-urgent activities.
There are two simple strategies to help get time on your side to realise your idea. The first is to look at minimising the time you waste every day and the second is to change your mind-set and find out what is possible in the time available to you.
In Part 4: The Execution phase, there is a section on logistics that gives a number of practical strategies to minimise time wastage. Now, in this section, I want to deal with the internal obstacle of time logistics, your mind-set.
You can easily create a little bit of time by reducing the amount of time wastage in other areas, and you can create a lot more time by committing yourself to doing more in less time. Strangely enough, the less time you give yourself to complete a task, the more chance you have of finishing it. After all, when we look at quantum mechanics, time is relative. You may have experienced this principle in your own life, when you have talked with someone for seemingly 5 minutes only to discover that is was actually over an hour, or when you have only had 5 minutes to do something which seemed impossible to accomplish yet you made it happen in even less time.
What story have you made up in your mind about what is possible in the time available? Have you already decided that the time required is more than the time you have available? If so, where has this calculation come from? How do you know how much time you have or don’t have
We make up stories about what we can do with time based on our previous experiences of time utilisation. By changing the type of stories you tell yourself about what is possible in the time available you can start to significantly increase your productivity. I’m not a guru at time utilisation—in fact, it’s one of my big challenges—but I do know that when I use the following mantra I can and do move mountains: ‘Get twice as much done in half the amount of time’. I’ve got my good colleague Matt Church to thank for sharing this gem with me. Just think about that sentence once more: ‘Get twice as much done in half the amount of time’. This means getting two days’ worth of work done in half a day! Yes, you will have to work hard, very hard, but that’s the point: to make the most of your available time. And: this philosophy will only be useful when you adopt and actually use it.
If you’re still sceptical and unwilling to give it a go, perhaps this next method will help you to see that it is possible to make time for realising creative ideas.
Designers use the term ‘charrette’ both as a noun and a verb to describe ideas generated during an intense period of design activity, be it drawing, creative thinking or brainstorming. Legend has it that the word originated from the Parisian School of Fine Arts many years ago. At the end of each year, an assistant would wheel a cart around the studios collecting drawings that needed to be submitted for evaluation. The assistant would be heard calling out ‘charrettéz, charrettéz’. Char, means cart, and rettez turns the noun into a verb, so it literally became ‘cart it’. Anglicised, the expression charretéz became charrette. You can bet that in those last few minutes, students who’d been working on their projects for a full year put in as much effort as possible to get the job done.
Think of the ‘charrettes’ you’ve had in your life or career: The last-minute proposal that knocks the socks off the client; the super-human house clean before an unexpected guest comes around; the ‘got to get it done before I go on holidays’ push; and the brief has just changed and so has your presentation. While all of these are variations of the ‘charrette’, with different time limitations, all of them have an urgency that forces us to get things done.
The more ‘charrettes’, the more you’ll get done. Treat a spare 5 minutes as if they are the last chance you’ll ever get to work on your idea. Even if the result is only half-baked, it will be better than doing nothing at all and can provide you with a basis for the next time you have the ‘final’ 5 minutes.
Do this: Charrette
Create a ‘charrette’ around your idea right now. Give yourself 5 minutes to complete it, imagining that this is the last opportunity you’ll ever have to get it done.
Set a date then a life
Having a timeline to finish your project is one of the key elements to bringing an idea to life. It’s important that your time effectiveness contract includes a ‘lifeline’ for due dates (remember your creative contract in Chapter 1: ‘Want it’) for both yourself and anyone else working on your project.
A ‘lifeline’ is a positive spin on the dreaded deadline. When you’ve set your lifeline remember it’s the opportunity to bring your ideas to fruition and the beginning of something, not the end. I dream about a lot of things and I’m also a realist. The one big thing I’ve learnt from my favourite—and very dangerous— sport, hang gliding, is the importance of living the life you want. Attempting unsuccessfully to bring a friend back to life was a sobering moment. It made me realise how important it is to actually create what I want to create. How would it make you feel if knew you were never going to realise your dream?
Create your ‘lifeline’ now.
Dealing with anti-creator no. 6: money
Money, or capital, is not always essential to make an idea happen. Sometimes an idea on its own is enough. Most successful entrepreneurs start with minimal capital and it’s their dedication and focus that enables them to persevere and succeed.
If your idea requires capital and you don’t have it, look for people who can see the value in a good idea and who may be interested in investing in yours. To secure financial backing or capital you’ll need to communicate your idea in a manner that is clear, short, sharp and concise. Your communication will need to be convincing and have impact.
And if you don’t want to use external capital, why not use your own? Now you may wonder: which capital am I talking about that you don’t have (or think you don’t have)? Rearranging our finances is sometimes all we need to do to fund our ideas. Just like when you’re saving up for a holiday or to buy something you want, you may need to pinch a bit from your entertainment account, start taking more lunches to work or put the house up for refinancing. Finding money is mostly a case of re-budgeting and rearranging priorities. Think of where you could get money if you really needed it.
Money really is everywhere. As outlined in many best-selling wealth creation books, in a country such as Australia this thinking is a luxury afforded to us but not to those in, say, a slum in Delhi or rural Cambodia. Abundance is an attitude, a mentality. There is more than enough money, opportunity, business and resources for everyone. It’s simply a matter of believing that you are entitled to your share.
If you’re still thinking you don’t have enough money it’s time for you to become aware of how resourceful you really are. We have all seen how ingenious some people become when they have very few options. What can you do with what you’ve got? Can you get your idea to the prototype stage? Can you substitute the materials or elements with something less expensive? The more you see your idea as a matter of subsistence, of getting food on the table and a roof over your head, the more creative you become in dealing with financial challenges.
Are you thinking that the world has enough money to support your idea? Are you operating from an abundance or poverty mentality?
Money can help speed up the creation of your idea. If you don’t have all the money you need, it may just take some perseverance and time until you’ve saved the funds to move forward. If this means keeping your current cash flow coming in the door by holding down your current job or taking on a new one, then so be it.
· Ask questions For logistic issues ask questions, make it up as you go, do twice as much in half the time and create ‘charrettes’ as often as possible.
· Be rough To overcome the perfectionist attitude, adopt a draft mentality and get realistic.
· Do it now To deal with the inner procrastinator, become aware of the energy spent avoiding the task, get comfortable with the uncomfortable and adopt an ‘it’s now or never’ attitude.
Think right For the ‘anti creator’ attitude, think ‘right’ not ‘wrong’ using the ABCs and change the stories you make up about yourself.[