It can happen anywhere. Walking to work. Watching TV. Lying in bed. Ideas come out of nowhere and strike us in the most random places — and when they hit, it feels like a bolt of lightening. We all have those moments of inspiration, sometimes fleeting, sometimes lasting. And sometimes so strong, they make us sit up straight and think, “I was meant to do this” — whatever this may be. These are the ideas that should be pursued.
But what are ideas really? We see them displayed through pictures of people with perfect little light bulbs drawn over their heads, through stories of brilliant entrepreneurs who launched successful businesses and through eloquent speakers who talk about how they’re changing the world. Seeing ideas shown in this form can lead you to believe that this is how ideas are born — tidy and complete. But the truth is that, just like babies when they’re first born, ideas are messy.
It’s important to resist the temptation to discard messy ideas simply because they don’t look the way we want them to right away. Every brilliant idea started as a half-formed, tangled mess, jumbled up inside someone’s head. Here’s some advice to help you begin working through your idea.
1) Embrace messiness.
It’s human nature to want to tidy up — to tie up loose ends, to put things in boxes, to categorize — but this can cause us to stifle our ideas before we’ve had a chance to explore them. Resist the urge to tidy up your idea. Instead try to map out all the different parts of your idea by drawing it out on a piece of paper. What makes sense? What doesn’t? What’s missing? In some cases you’ll be able to see the logical connections between each part, in others you won’t. That’s ok; it’s what starting looks like.
2) Don’t ignore half formed ideas. Pursue them.
It’s dangerous to believe that good ideas come to us fully formed, because it causes us to ignore the ones that come to us incomplete — that is, most ideas. Instead of throwing out an idea because you only have a part of it figured out, pursue it and see where it takes you. Talk to others about your idea and see what they have to say. Good ideas are rarely the product of just one person, they’re often a collaboration from many perspectives, each person solving a different piece of the puzzle. Forming a complete idea is a journey, so follow your ideas, see where they take you and recruit others to come along for the ride.
3) Ask questions. They are your greatest asset.
I often hear people lament that they don’t have answers, just questions. That’s nothing to be concerned about — questions are your greatest asset when you’re just starting out. You should be weary of anyone at the earliest stages who seems to have it all figured out; they’re likely missing something. When you feel lost and aren’t sure where to turn, write down all the things you don’t know. See if there’s a theme or topic to the questions that keeps coming up, then see if you can find an expert in that area to talk to. It could be an expert in urban sustainability, it could be an expert in marketing — it all depends what kind of questions you’re asking. Take your questions to them and see what they have to say. Then take their ideas — which will likely be half formed — and pursue them further.
Every brilliant idea started as a half-baked thought rolling around inside someone’s head. Don’t let the fact that your idea is incomplete stop you from believing in it. Trust yourself, trust your instincts and pursue that messy idea — you never know where it might take you.