Zero to One: How to execute on your ideas — Chapter 1

A guide for those stuck in idea mode

Marc Köhlbrugge
Mar 7, 2014 · 5 min read

Back in March 2009, I was having a hard time executing on my ideas. Since I had to write a thesis for school I decided to research how other people deal with these problems and did some experiments on my own. The result is a framework that guides you through the first steps of executing on your idea. From Zero to One.

It has been five years since I wrote my thesis, but I believe the core concepts still hold true and can benefit anyone that’s having difficulties executing on their ideas. The article is split into multiple posts for better readability and some grammatical problems have been fixed, but other than that no changes have been made.

I hope this article will help you bring your ideas to life and welcome any feedback you might have.

– Marc

“The beginning is half of every action.”
–Greek Proverb

Preface

I’ve always had a lot of ideas. Ideas for creative projects like websites, movies, consumer products, even companies. From small ideas that would only take a few days to implement to big projects that would take a life-time. I loved having ideas. I loved writing them down in my notebook and re-reading them the next day. I loved talking to people about all the ideas I had come up with. It seemed like a magical thing. But slowly a problem arose, the ideas started to feel empty. I started to feel I should do something more with them.

The thing I loved about my ideas was their potential. The potential of creating something new. Using my creativity to bring something new to the world. But I realized my ideas were worthless if they would never find their way to the real world. I tried starting to develop my ideas, but that didn’t seem to work. As soon as I started to work on them they didn’t seem all that interesting anymore. I would quickly come up with new ideas to distract me from working on the current one. I tried to remedy this by reading a lot about productivity and creativity. I even learned myself a few habits which, to be honest, did make me more productive, but at other things. I still didn’t work on my own ideas. It seemed like productivity was not the issue here. It wasn’t creativity either. I came up with the most creative ideas. No, it was something else. But I wasn’t exactly sure yet what it was.

Then one day I came across a presentation called ‘Towards patterns for creativity’. It was a presentation by Merlin Mann, author of the popular productivity-blog 43 Folders. He started his talk about how many people seem to be fixating on all these tools about productivity and all “this stuff how fun it is to make stuff.” But people who actually make stuff don’t spend time on thinking about how to be creative. They just start working.

That was a small revelation to me. Instead of coming up with new ideas, visiting all these websites about creativity and reading all these books about productivity I could just start working. I did. And it worked. It may sound a bit strange, how can something as obvious as that get me to start working? I think it was something I knew all along, but that presentation just said it right in my face, which motivated me to actually get working. However, I knew I couldn’t rely on that motivation being there the whole time. I knew it would weaken slowly and I needed some structure to keep me creating.

I now have done some research on this subject and I think came up with something that works pretty well to keep myself from dwelling in the creativity mode. I would like to share it with you because I know I’m not the only one out there with this problem. I know there are plenty of ideas waiting. All they need is a creator who knows how to bring them to our world.

If you want to be this kind of a creator and have plenty of ideas but don’t seem to be able to implement them, this article is for you. If you don’t recognize yourself in any of the stated problems you still might be interested in how the gap between having an idea and implementing it is bridged.

Before I go on, I want you to think about the project you would like to work on right now. Now put this article aside and start working on that project. Do it now. Yes, I know you want to keep reading this article. You have all these reasons why you can’t work on that project right now, but in reality you can. You think your reason really is valid, and this is meant for other people. It isn’t. You can work on that project, right now. Do it. If you really get stuck, you can always come back later.


How did that feel? I’m assuming you actually did get something done, which felt great, but it didn’t last or you wouldn’t have come back. I will try to give you a way to make it last. But first read this carefully:

You are probably already reading too much about solving your problems, instead of just solving them. In his presentation Mann talked about how reading about creativity makes you feel creative, but in the end you still didn’t make something. I agree, too often reading is just a quick fix. An escape from the real world. Don’t let this article be another escape. So don’t just read this article. Instead question it. Put it to the test. Try out the described methods. No text will create for you, you have to do that yourself. That said I will try to guide you through the process.

The article is divided into two chapters:

  1. In the first chapter I will discuss what I believe are the most important elements of creativity and making ideas happen. The underlying concepts and the psychological side of it. You will find some practical tips here and there, but it’s mostly theory.
  2. The second chapter will turn all this theory into practical advise. It’s like a guide you can use when working on an idea. It’s related to what Mann calls “design patterns for creativity”.

“Each pattern described a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then described the core of the solution to that problem in such a way that you could use this solution a million times over without doing it the same way twice.” –Christopher Alexander

I won’t be stating every problem explicitly, but the solutions I am providing are universal, they can be implemented in your own way. They are something you can use while working on an idea. This is the good stuff. If you want, you can skip right to it, but the theory from the first chapter gives you the insight on why things work as they do which also enable you to create your own design patterns based on this theory.

More on this in the next part of the article.


    Marc Köhlbrugge

    Written by

    @BetaList Founder

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