Better for you and your customers to tackle problems you have experience with. If you come from nowhere with no expertise in the sandbox you want to play in, you’re at a severe disadvantage because you cannot directly empathize with your customers out of the gate and need to spend that much more time on research to catch up. You’re behind before you begin.
What problems have you suffered in life and have educated theories strong enough to beat them? If you move forward without an underlying passion to solve a personal problem, what then will continue to fuel your fire? How can you possibly stay excited about an idea you have no emotional attachment to – a problem you do not understand?
I’m not telling you not to stretch yourself. And I’m definitely not telling you to skip the research altogether and go for what you know. Understand, however, that jumping into a business blind comes with much higher risk and a harder path to pave. One in ten million people get lucky building something they do not understand and making a business out of it. Press your luck to be the one or press your experience to build something you care about instead.
Writer’s block is a very difficult dragon to slay. Bad ideas are better than nothing – at least you are coming up with ideas at all. A pile of bad ideas can still be useful. Never kill a bad idea prematurely. Let it run its course, in tandem with other bad ideas. Bad ideas can overlap and form alliances. Enough bad ideas can inspire a good one. Keep your mind open. Let the ideas flow. Analyze and annotate without surgery or criticism. Brainstorm until you can brainstorm no more. Then dig the gem out from underneath the rubble.
I’m not very good at this. I start so many projects that never see the light of day. I’m great at starting things; not so great at finishing them. What’s worse? I can never seem to let failed projects die. They pile on my desk and continue to distract me from the latest and greatest. I tell myself, “Maybe someday I’ll crack the code to this one and solve it.” But that hasn’t happened yet. Not for a single project. Only the current, active and relevant projects of mine tend to succeed.
I think you can ‘finish’ incomplete projects. You can repackage them as failures and label the package with lessons learned. That way, reminders of that project call back to useful takeaways instead of a meandering nostalgia. You can consolidate the evidence and pack it into a box. You may even need to set the box free. I’ve burned notes, posted rough drafts to the internet, buried files on a hard drive and given mementos away. I routinely publish and share my failures with the world to save people from making the same mistakes. Other times, I just hit the delete key.
More often than not, it’s better to let go. Think about it like you’re shedding baggage – not taking your pet out back and shooting it. Losing weight is a good thing. Losing distractions, even by your own creation, can be great for you, too.
How many places can you sing aloud without fear or hesitation? The shower? Home alone? The car maybe? Where are you allowed to speak your mind, scream or share ideas? How many places can you truly be yourself?
Venues where you can let loose and be honest are rare and extremely important. Most environments are filled with people around whom you naturally curtail your speech and behavior to go with the flow. If nothing else, we keep quiet in consideration of others.
It is healthy – necessary, even – to control the podium on a regular basis. As much as we consume, we must create. And we must create honestly – from the heart and without censorship. To do that, nothing or no one can stand in our way. Some artists and public figures build the confidence to live honestly with little friction from the world around them. Most of us have no forum to build that confidence on our own. Nevertheless, we need that release. Audience or no audience, we must be honest with ourselves.
More than just a meditation space, we each need a cone of solitude where no one can stifle us, our voice or our ideas. Where we can express ourselves without constraint. I do my best thinking in the shower and best speaking in the car (in fact, I dictated most of my recent posts to my smartphone while driving to work).
Where can you be yourself? Where do you dream the loudest? How can you optimize that space to capture your voice – and sing louder?
Public speaking and education theory underscore the value of repetition. If repeated, the odds of audience retention increase dramatically for a given piece of information. Repeated more, listeners may start to engage with the material. Debates, testing, execution or indoctrination may ensue.
Take repetition to the next level: get people to live and breathe the information. If repeated enough, opponents may even give up opposing and join the team. The information may not be true. How do you think we came to associate the Trojan War with a lust battle? Enough people recited theIliadas historical literature, over and over again. Call it “truth conditioning.” Tell a lie so many times that people start to believe it. You may even start to believe it yourself.
When you surround yourself by theories, people and literature that never leave you alone, you start to accept their fiction as fact. WatchStar Warsenough times and you will believe in the Force. Read a book enough times and you will believe the world started six thousand years ago. Spend enough time in your environment and you will believe it’s the only way to live life. We live and breathe conditioning every day and fall prey. You accept “truths” within the world you live and move on accordingly.
Repetition and persistence may be the most powerful tools in mass communication. Say something loud – and then say it again. And again. And again.
Keep your eyes open all the time. You never know what opportunities lie at the edge of your vision. Keep your mind free to all possibilities. Focus may be productive, but it has a very negative side effect: myopia. The real pros do not ruthlessly blockade distractions from their lives; they listen to all options, see everything, and train themselves to sort through variables faster than everyone else. If you want to rule the world, learn to dissect the world efficiently. Pay attention to everything and consider it all before filtering away. The email at the bottom of the list, the girl in the corner of the room, or that side panel advertisement may actually be the most important twists in your life. But you’ll never know unless your mind’s eye stays open.
…Try again differently. Don’t give up. Don’t dismiss it as a failure and leave it behind in the dust. Not yet. Don’t let all that hard work go to waste. Learn from your mistakes, figure out why it didn’t work the first time, and put lessons learned into practice. Try again, but differently this time. If you lose a second time, sit back and analyze the situation again. Debrief. You cannot wave it off in ignorance and shame. You must study your defeat. Only when you can draft an educated and supported thesis on your shortcomings should you be allowed to dismiss your attempts as failures and move on.
With access to the entire information landscape through the Internet, access to public opinion has accelerated tenfold. While this accessibility may constitute a deep saturation of noise, one very exciting trend is evolving out of it: audiences are far less susceptible to clever marketing tricks and far more in tune with quality content. Audiences can smell turds. No longer can clever movie trailers, print agendas, or viral campaigns smooth out rough edges and scale a property. Produce bad content with good marketing, and audiences will call your bluff. You will lose.
The key to success on the horizon rests firmly in quality content. No shortcuts anymore, only good ideas. Your work can pierce the noise with a strong and honest idea at its heart. If you are good enough, people will love and promote you for it. Focus all your money and attention on producing quality work.
As for marketing your content? Inspire true fans to do that for you. Be wary of spending a lot of money on marketing in this climate – the people may assume you are polishing a turd.
Before spending lots of money or time realizing your “vision,” put it on paper first. Unless you can afford to waste resources or fail miserably, it’s far better to outline and iterate your project in writing. Pens and paper are cheap. Payroll, equipment, and building blocks are not. That’s why people started using blueprints, screenplays, sketches, budgets, business plans, outlines, storyboards, and recipes. By mapping your vision, you liberate ideas from your skull onto a medium others can review. On paper, you can objectify your idea better and collect feedback from peers who can help you.
Yes, this may be a fundamental concept. “Duh, Craig, of course you should plan things on paper.” But it kills me how many people jump into the deep end without thinking first. And it amazes me how much time I’ve wasted getting dirty without a plan. Hours and hours of design, coding, and crafting to get me nowhere when I could have realized project faults on the page early on. Trust me, put it on paper first. It’s not a real idea until someone can read or see it – including you. Thank you, Mark Godwin, for reminding me of that.
We are our own worst enemies when it comes to inventing ideas. More than anyone else, we criticize and censor our own thoughts. We wave opportunities away at the first sight of obstacles – and never look back. Unacceptable. All great things come with challenges. We cannot rule out possibilities before staring them in the face long enough to determine their credibility.
Practice brainstorming. Sit down for a dedicated period of time. Challenge yourself to come up with a specific number of ideas, preferably addressing a problem you want to solve. Set a timer and feel the pressure. Write every idea down. Do not judge them. Do not cross them out. Never read the list until the brainstorming session concludes. Free your mind from the type of critical thought that restricts creativity. Dream big and ignore consequences. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You will surprise yourself by your own creativity.