Thinking up new ideas is fun. But you have to execute too.
I volunteer on the board of an animal rescue organization.
They have an amazing mission. They want to support rescue animals.
Or, at least, that’s part of their mission.
One of the two co-founders is a woman that leads with her heart. She wants to help animals any way that she can. Sometimes it’s by doing Spay & Neuter clinics in remote areas of our state. Sometimes she decides to take in hundreds of pounds of dog food that someone donates. Whether we have a place to store it, or dogs to give it to. Sometimes she brings dogs in need to the veterinarian, without checking to see if we have the funds to pay for the services.
She is an incredible woman. She has worked tirelessly to move the organization forward for years.
Well, maybe forward isn’t exactly the right word.
She has ten new ideas at every Board meeting about what we should do or where we should go within the world of animal welfare. And all of them sound great.
But ten new ideas per month will not move the organization forward. Or bring in much needed funds. Or provide the volunteers the structure they need to add value, which they so desperately would like to do.
Ten new ideas per quarter will drive this amazing organization out of business.
Are you like this? Are you a creative or heart-driven person who wants nothing more to create something amazing or add value to your community?
I want to commend and support you. The world needs people like you.
But at the same time, you’re selling yourself short. Not living up to your potential. Because you’re so focused on generating new ideas. And don’t focus on evaluating the ideas you’ve already laid out, assessing their merits, and moving forward with one or two. You’re hampering your own ability to add as much value as you’d like.
But here’s what you can do to change that.
Consider the return on investment in your idea
So you think you have a great new idea. I get it; new ideas are filled with hope and promise.
But there is a financial concept called Return On Investment (ROI). It can be applied to almost any new idea. The concept is to assess what you need to put into an idea to make it happen (time, money, passion, focus). And what will ultimately come out of it. Again, money is one way to assess what comes out. But other metrics could be: bringing you closer to your goals, or the amount of impact you can make on your community.
So, if the idea is for our animal rescue organization to start providing free dog food to people in need. We need to find a location to store dog food. Find someone to transport it to that location. Reach out to those in need and let them know we have the dog food. And then have a volunteer available to provide the dog food to people when they can come pick it up. How much time and money does all that up too? Many hours of volunteer time. Plus covering the gas for transport. Plus the favor of using someone’s garage for several hundred pounds of dog food.
If we choose to invest the time and money into that initiative. What are we getting out of it? Does it bring us closer to our goals? Is it worth the investment? Does storing that dog food even align with our objectives? Is there a better use of those hours of volunteer time, plus gas, plus a favor?
Understand that excuting on every idea has a value and an opportunity cost. Even constant idea generation can cost something. It takes away from time, money, and opportunity to execute on the ideas that you already have.
So before you get excited about today’s idea of accepting a large donation of dog food, create some sort of quantative framework to assess the idea. Figure out what needs to go into the idea to make it happen, and the return on that investment. Because the truth is, many ideas will end up losing money, time, and opportunity. And actually take you farther away from your goals.
Batch “action item” generation
This is another difficult area for people who are primarily idea generators.
Once you’ve decided to move forward with an idea. What are the actions needed to make an idea come to fruition?
This usually involves details, which can feel boring to creators and people who lead with their heart.
Boring, but critically important.
So my suggestion is to generate action items all at once, in a “batch.”
Once you pick an idea, spend a few hours or a few days focusing on all the action items needed for this idea. Make it granular. Not “find storage for dog food” but “ask Bob, Betsy, or Sue if they are willing to store dog food.” Put the action items in a logical sequence.
It might not be your favorite way to spend your time. But in the end, you will have a roadmap of what you have to do to bring your idea forward.
Then you don’t have to waste any more time wondering what you should do next.
You have already generated some important action items.
When you have time to work on your idea, you’ll know exactly what you need to do. And you just have to focus on the doing.
Make a committment
When you have so many shiny ideas, it can be hard to pick one. Sometimes you don’t even want to pick one. Many people thrive in an environment where there are many ongoing projects at the same time.
That’s fine. You can decide if one project or three make the most sense for you. But once you find a few ideas that can create a return on your investment, you have to commit to them. Remember why you’re doing them. You’ve chosen them because they providing a concrete, defined value. Money, time, progress toward your goals, or contribution to your community. There is an intentional reason behind why you picked them.
But here’s the catch. You won’t actually see that value, that ROI, if you don’t follow your idea through to completion. If you invest only some of the time or money to bring the idea across the finish line but then abandon the project, you will have wasted your investment. The valuable time or money or passion or focus that you could have spent elsewhere.
So you have to keep your eye on the prize.
The famous Wayne Gretzy quote can apply here:
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
If you line yourself up to take the shot on one great idea and then wander away before your stick connects with the puck, you still haven’t taken the shot. So you still have 100% chance of missing.
Moving an idea from theory to reality is difficult for many people. Ideas are fun. Execution often involves moving forward in the dark, focusing on the details, and making missteps along the way. But if you set yourself up for success by focusing on ideas that you believe will have a positive ROI. Then decide what action items you need to do in advance, and commit to the idea, you will be well ahead of most.
And you won’t end up with 300 pounds of dog food in your garage for the foreseeable future.