Everyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea

Here is a thing, everyone I talk to always say that they have so many ideas, if only they had time to implement them.

That’s not the problem.

There is a difference between an idea, and an idea. This didn’t click me for a long time, but thinking about ideas alone is too vague. The moment you try to explain it to someone or write it down, you realize just how little concrete thought is behind it. It kind of just collapses.

Often people assume that the only thing stopping them from implementing their ideas is time to do it, while instead I argue it’s how abstract those ideas are. Without writing them down and figuring out steps to make it happen, it’s not an idea - it’s a random thought. And the problem with random thoughts is that no one wants to start on them, because it’s hard to understand how much time it will take. Thus creating a notion of “I don’t have the time for it”.

How many times have you heard “I came up with an idea for Uber 5 years before launched”? A.) It doesn’t matter, because clearly Uber happened without your involvement. B.) “An app to order a taxi” is not an idea, it’s a random thought.

Growing ideas

Those random thoughts also take up a lot of thinking power, making it hard to focus on just one thing. So people end up walking around full of ideas, but nothing concrete, nothing they can go and realize. That’s why I was looking for a process to turn my ideas into something I can work with. Then I remembered a process from a talk David Coallier gave - 24, 48, 1, 2, 2.

24, 48, 1, 2, 2 means when you have an idea, you first write it down and set a calendar reminder to ping you 24 hours from now. If 24 hours later it still makes sense, set another reminder for 48 hours. Then 1 week, 2 weeks and finally 2 months. If after all this time, the idea is still solid - go do something about it.

This achieves a few things. First, it introduces writing down ideas in a way that you can go back and understand it. A step which alone rules out most thoughts because you can’t even write them down in a coherent piece of text. And yet the key thing is that this processes removes the initial over-excitement and the aimless pondering. Instead of thinking about vague ideas constantly, it forces to take increasingly-longer breaks.

I’ve been doing for a while. And so far most ideas have not survived this.

From blog posts, to talks, to product ideas, now I build a list and keep coming back to them when my calendar says so. Also, every time I come back and I still think it makes sense, I add more notes on why it does so. Often 2 weeks after the initial thought I have no idea what I even meant initially. Or why I thought it’s such a great idea.

One of the most common sayings in the startup world is “Ideas are cheap, execution is everything”. The second part is right, but the first one is not. Execution is what is going to be required to turn great ideas into something tangible, but execution will not save bad ideas. And most ideas are bad. So the focus instead should be on filtering them out, finding golds nuggets, and then the whole execution machine can start.

The ultimate fix for shower ideas is to write them down, and then come back to them later. Not to start working on them right away, nor ponder about them forever.

*all illustrations done by Frits from hikingartist.com