What to do in a world with so many great ideas?
In a world where everyone has so many great ideas rushing around in their head, it can become very hard to focus. These days, focus seems like a long forgotten art. Bruce Lee once said that the only difference between an ordinary man and an extraordinary man is FOCUS.
Think of the men and women who are marvels in their industry, the ones who soar above the others with their expertise, or skill set. It all comes down to focus. Bruce Lee has also said that he does not fear the man who knows one thousand kicks, but he does fear the man who’s practiced one kick a thousand times. That level of dedication means when that man see’s that perfect opportunity to land that kick, he’s going to do it with perfection because he practiced it thousands of times.
It’s very common these days for people to have more than one source of income. People are brainstorming ideas more than they used to. The main stream media shows people getting rich off ideas all the time (beware of that crap.)
I, alone, have had ideas for online retail businesses, subscription services, apps, restaurants and food truck ideas, book ideas, etc…. and it’s a lot of fun talking about these ideas with friends. It feels great. You actually feel like you’re progressing in some direction. But you’re not progressing at all, you’re just wasting time talking about ideas. There is no focus.
As a matter of fact, studies have shown that fantasizing about your dreams or desires actually makes them less likely to happen, because you’ve tricked your brain into thinking it’s actually happening. I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole just yet, but it is important for you to know.
So how do we create a format that helps us retain the ideas we care about, get rid of the ones that probably won’t work or are just unrealistic, and focus on taking that first step forward on one idea. A format for focusing intensely on one idea, one main plan, one objective.
This makes me think a bit about the book The One Thing by Gary Keller, which is a good book that can help you become more productive and focused. But what’s the flip side? Without focus you might as well kiss your dreams good bye. This might seem counter-intuitive considering if you don’t focus on those “other” ideas, they’re guaranteed to never work. But if you focus a little bit on every idea you have, I can promise you with a 100% Money Back Guarantee, all that focus will be a waste. That also makes me wonder, if you focus on multiple things, doesn’t that really mean you’re not focusing on anything? In the wise words of Ron Swanson, don’t half ass two things, whole ass one thing.
I’m not going to delve into a complex system of focusing with case studies and all that fancy stuff, or even any minimum effective dosing (which is great in the fitness world (read 4 hour body)) for focusing. Instead, the focus format is a way to know, strategically, what you should focus on right now with every synapse and neurotransmitter you have at your disposal.
Level one of the focus format is understanding what it is you actually truly want. A lot of people come up with amazing ideas but they don’t know what it is about the idea that makes them really want it in the first place. In many cases, the idea just sounds cool, or novel, or “nice to have.” But is it?
This is why a lot of people who open up restaurants don’t fair so well. They just wanted a place to hang fancy local art work on the wall and to be able to walk around the restaurant while it’s busy and shake hands with the locals and maybe some old friends, or even have a couple of regulars who always spark up a cool conversation with you, so you feel great when you whip out the 30 year old scotch for them to sample because you’re flying high on your dream cloud and loving every minute of it. Meanwhile, half your stock is gonna go bad by the weekend unless you sell it all, the bartender and waitresses are ripping you off behind your back, and the chef is quietly going insane because he’s beyond stressed out working 14 hours a day for the past 2 months. And on top of that, your wife who has no business in the restaurant industry is wielding her iron-will over the sous chefs because she thinks she really knows what’s best, and just the thought of her being around rises everyone’s stress levels 10 fold. (Because she actually knows how broke you’re gonna be when this business fails and shes already passively looking for another husband.)
That may have been a little overly specific, but the point is that every fool has tons of great ideas, and even if they executed them, if they don’t understand the underlying principles of WHY they are doing what they are doing, they may find themselves wondering what happened after all is said and done and they’re sitting there about to fill out chapter 11.
So what is the WHY? What is level one of the focus format? Level one is about what is truly important to you, it’s understanding yourself enough to make a good decision on WHY you’re making whatever move you’re about to make. Level One is the philosophical question.
L1 (as we’ll call it) is a little harder to swallow but it’s mostly due to its ambiguous nature. Not everyone in life wants the same things exactly. I mean we all want to be happy or maybe more affluent, or maybe we want a “job” that’s more fulfilling. A lot of it is vague and I cannot, nor can anyone, tell you what YOU truly want. But I’ll tell you what I’d want. I’d want to be out of the “rat race” as I call it. The 9 to 5, the pay check to pay check life. And a lot of people want this, so it’s not unusual nor does wanting it make you special at all.
So from your list of ideas, what’s one thing from one idea that you believe would be the easiest to start executing that would give you at least ONE thing you really want? For me the answer was simple. I needed more time, and I needed location freedom. So that’s when the idea of starting a consulting business popped back up to the surface and I knew without the slightest doubt that it had to be my main focus. I’ve had consulting on my radar for a long time but over the course of a year (+) I realized I had become very unfocused on what idea to attack first, that’s why I decided I needed a focus format.
So that’s L1, probably the hardest of the 3 levels to explain. L2 is a lot simpler once you get through L1.
L2 is elimination. In a world of consumerism and everybody wanting more more more stuff, we often forget to realize how less is almost always better. I know so many people who have become slaves to their own possessions. As Seneca once said, a great fortune is a great slavery. Now I’m not about go Rolf Potts on you and tell you to sell everything you own and back pack across Asia (but hey if you want to, at least let me know because that sounds awesome.) By limiting your options you force yourself to focus on the options you have. (This is why the other guy’s grass seems greener.)
In L2, we are going to kill off as many ideas as possible. Truth is, I fell deeply in love with my food truck ideas, especially because I’ve been in the food industry since I was 16. But for now, let’s just say I parked my food truck idea where I feel it belongs, up in the idea attic, in a box with a ton of other stuff. Now I’m not saying I would never open a food truck, all I’m saying is that due to the questions and answers I got from L1, I realized that if I ever do start a food truck company, I will know when the time comes, and I’m okay if it never does. (Plus I have a few close friends who have started some of the first ever food trucks in Myrtle Beach and I can live that dream somewhat vicariously through them, now that’s what I call a win-win.)
By taking as many ideas off the table as possible you strengthen your focus on the ideas that remain. At this point, with consulting being my main focus (which you can start for little to nothing) I will know when it’s okay to take my focus off of it for a little while to focus on the next idea. My next idea is going to be an app (most likely – another thing about this is that you don’t have to be super specific, I don’t believe in writing 30 page business plans and all that non-sense unless you’re writing it for some sort of investor or IPO.)
Understand this as well. It’s okay to not pursue an idea. Everyone and their grandmother loves food trucks, people truly push you to do it when you tell them about it. It feels great having that support from friends, family and random acquaintances. When you run into those same people again 6 months later and they ask you about the food truck idea, you may feel like you’ve given up on that dream when you tell them you’re not doing it. And people who give up on their dreams are losers… right? Well no, not at all. Letting go of one idea takes far more strength than most people will ever realize. Often times the difficulty of letting go of an idea is just our ego getting the best of us.
That man who only learned one kick, rejected to learn the other 999 kicks… there is freedom and liberation in the rejection of alternatives. And these days, it’s so easy to be swayed around from idea to idea, industry to industry. And yet the same examples from the past hold true to this day. If you commit to one thing and you master it, people who look at you in awe and wonder “wow, how did they get so great…” when the truth has been staring back at them the whole time. But most people don’t acknowledge this. Most people don’t get what it takes to be or make something perennial.
Level 3 is choosing and executing. Sticking to it. As I’ve said, with rejection comes freedom and liberation. It may seem contradictory to say that removing other options will create freedom, but when no other option is on the table, you aren’t enslaved by the “what if” or FOMO. Unfortunately there is always a chance your dedication to an idea can turn out to be fruitless, but the truth is you will never fully know until you put in the effort. Experience, when used effectively, is always worth more than money.
Now how exactly do you pick that ONE idea? A lot of that will rely on you and what you feel in your heart makes the most sense. A little bit of business knowledge does go a long way though.
The first thing you should look at is the type of business you are trying to start, then from there you can determine how capital intensive it is. This is important. Running a Food Truck is a lot more capital intensive than drop-shipping widgets off of shopify (even though it doesn’t need to be different, the required initial investment certainly is.) On a side note, a great book on small businesses that I recently read is called Small Giants by Bo Burningham, I highly recommend it.
What skills do you already have? I used to consult for a large financial firm, and small business owners were my main clientele, so I already have some skills in that industry from a fundamental standpoint. Now I won’t say you should totally discredit yourself because you DON’T have certain skills. I still have plans for eCommerce and retail, but I know it will be a steep learning curve and require a decent amount of testing ($) and troubleshooting, as well as creativity, and an ass load of market research, all of which requires a lot of time and money.
Also, you have to look closely at where you are right now. How much free time do you have to pursue these goals? When it comes to getting your hustling spirit in check, I love me some Gary Vee (just YouTube it.) Some things to take into consideration are how much money you can put aside vs how much you need to fund the idea. I’m not big into taking out loans or borrowing money, but that is also an option. You can also leverage some of your current assets if necessary. ALWAYS ASSESS THE RISK. I can’t stress that enough. I know people who left huge companies with good salaries to start or even buy an existing company without realizing the risks and pitfalls, let alone the personal sacrifices that might be needed. No more hibachi on the company dollar, I hope you enjoy some good old ramen and shopping at Marshalls for a while. (And there is nothing wrong with that, I’m wearing a shirt I got at Marshalls as I write this!)
Another very important thing to take into HEAVY consideration is the people who can help you. Aside from the endless resources around you, like SBDC, local banks, crowdfunding services – think of your acquaintances. You’d be surprised to know how many people you already know might be doing the same thing, or might be good at something you need. Or at the very least they know somebody who knows something. Help people help you. Obviously not everyone will have the greatest intention, and a lot of people might even doubt your ideas and tell you how “hard” it is, even though they’ve never done it themselves. Most advice is good advice, but 90% of that “good advice” won’t aid you, that’s something I’ve learned over the years. When your idea is specific, you need specific advice. This is why specialists exist in the medical field for example.
There could easily be more to this post than I’ve already said, but the point is that most of these things will be very personal to you, and be interchangeable on a case by case basis. I hope this helps you focus more on the important. Being creative can sometimes be very burdensome, and prioritizing is the difference between making good decisions and no decisions.