Projects and observations

The Lifecycle of Precious Ideas

Early in my life, learned to mostly reject the concept that ideas are special, rare and valuable. Once I started keeping an idea notebook to which I regularly added, it dawned on me that I had far too many ideas to ever act upon them all. As you can read in hundreds of other posts, it’s not the idea so much as the execution that counts.

However, there is still one type of idea that sometimes becomes precious – that is, so valuable that I am protective of it. What becomes precious to me is an idea that I’m really excited about, one that I think could help people and really make a difference, but that seems too big or complex for me to execute on immediately. Maybe it’s an idea for a book in a field I am only lightly versed in. Or maybe it’s an idea for an entire online platform that may require months of coding (something I tend to avoid in my personal projects these days).

In other words, what becomes precious to me are ideas I want to execute, but feel like I can’t.

So, I save them. I take notes about them, sometimes promoting them to their own virtual notebook in my preferred app. I think about them and imagine what it would be like to have completed them. But over time, most of these ideas begin to decay and lose their luster, their dry bones becoming heavy and burdensome. And then it will begin to disgust me, and taunt me with the promise I once saw but made no progress towards realizing. So I’ll kill it. Maybe that’s just archiving off the notes somewhere I’ll never look, or maybe deleting it altogether and vowing not to think of it again.

And this is the lifecycle of a precious idea.

I think this is a terrible way to treat something that had once seemed so promising and interesting to me. To be sure, there are times that ideas don’t pan out and should be killed, or changed, or integrated into others. But most often for me, it’s not the idea itself that causes it to wither, but the fear of executing it.

I don’t have the skills!

I don’t have the reputation!

I don’t have the time!

It’s gonna be so much work!

Whining reasons that ultimately kill my best ideas.

I continue to search for the right balance. I know from listening to many creative people that sometimes ideas do need to wait, and almost all ideas can benefit from a little time simmering on the back burner. But surely there must be a way to better manage my ideas so that fewer die under my self-doubt and procrastination.

As I continue to produce more work in public, it makes me understand that some of these precious ideas do have a place – they can be my private projects. I always like working on more than one thing, so my plan for the next year is to always be actively working on one of these precious ideas alongside all the smaller, quicker things I execute.

My theory is that if I make progress on a specific precious idea (that’s more than just adding some notes here and there!) then these bigger projects may continue to be important to me and, instead of withering and disappearing, they can have life and I can have a chance to make impact through them.

I have a book I’ve been lightly working on for a few months, but it’s been some time since I’ve made anything like progress on it. It requires a lot of research – much more than I’ve ever done for a project in the past — and I must not let that deter me.

This is the precious idea I will nurture over the next year. This is the one that will survive and, I hope, thrive.

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