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Post Eureka: How to Make Sure Your Idea Doesn’t Die

Getting great ideas? Easy. Following up on them is hard! Here are some tricks to make sure your great idea becomes a reality.
by Caitlin Schiller | Jul 15 2016

I got to write these jokes. So, I sit at the hotel at night and I think of something that’s funny. Or, If the pen is too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of wasn’t funny.
-Mitch Hedberg

Mitch Hedberg, the late one-liner comedian extraordinaire, nails a challenge with which we’re all familiar. We get a great idea, we enjoy a run of great excitement and, if we’re lucky, we make some good headway. Then, whether it’s because we’re lying in bed without a pen, we’re too busy, or we simply don’t know where to start, we let that great idea wither on the vine.

This plateau happens to pretty much everyone, and the best way to get around it is by acting as quickly as possible on your initial inspiration. But how do you act when you’ve got limited time and resources? How can you best serve your eureka? After reading through some of the best books on creativity and innovation, here are a few tactics you can try, plus a reading list of good books to turn to for even more ideas on how to make your ideas happen.

Ask “Why doesn’t this work”

Although he might have had the initial concept for it, Steve Jobs didn’t just magic up the iPhone’s unique touchscreen in a single night. Instead, he thought about the status quo smartphones and continually asked a single question: “Why don’t they work?”

The primary problem with smartphones of yore was clunky keyboards. The fix would be easy, Jobs thought, if it could mimic the desktop’s big screen and pointer. But why doesn’t that work? He wondered. Because you need a pointer. And why doesn’t that work? Because no one wants to carry around a mouse. How about a stylus? Why wouldn’t that work? Well, styluses are tragically easy to lose. But! What looks like a stylus, acts like a stylus, and is very difficult to misplace unless you’re distractedly chopping vegetables? Your finger! The finger, Jobs concluded, could just as well function as a pointer on a screen. This one little question helped Jobs get from an innovation-worthy “eureka” to a concrete solution.

Harness the power of routine

Once you’ve got your eureka and some ideas as to how to pursue it, you’re going to need to deliver on it, and a routine often helps. Best-selling author John Grisham relied on a 5:00 a.m. start with a shower, office, coffee, and a start to writing by 5:00 a.m., making sure he wrote at least one page per day, no matter how much time it took. Toni Morrison, novelist extraordinaire, has a somewhat more esoteric routine centered on daylight. She rises at around 5:00 each morning to watch the dawn. For her, it’s important to wake before the light and observe the transition into day. She considers this a mystical moment that inspires her to write. Whatever you choose as your morning routine or ritual, rely on it as the steady, reliable framework that gives you the mental cue—and the time!—to get working on your idea.

Read more on this in Daily Rituals.

Don’t fly solo

When ideas converge in a shared physical or intellectual space, creative collisions are bound to happen—which is great. Shared interactions allow ideas to diffuse, circulate and be combined randomly with others. And who knows? Working in a shared physical space just might help you find your ideal creative partner. Creative partners can bolster your confidence, provide valuable feedback, or provide that detailed focus that might not be your strong suit. Of course, partners needn’t pursue everything together. More useful is a creative conversation that establishes a series of goals toward which the individual team members are free to work on their own. The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are a great example of this method. First, they identify and solve problems together. Afterward, they work individually, with Parker doing the initial writing and directing which is then refined and polished by Stone.

Read more on this in Making Ideas Happen.

Get an accountability buddy

Like any healthy habit, devoting yourself to getting a project off the ground works best when you commit to it and do it regularly. One effective way to make this happen is to seek out an accountability partner to help you stick to your creative commitment. We’ve all had those days when we intended to go to the gym, but flaked out because we just didn’t feel like it. If you had had a friend there waiting for you, it have been a different story. Psychologically, we do not like to contradict ourselves, and telling someone you like “I’ll be there” and not showing might be more painful to your psyche than not clocking nine hours of sleep.

Read more on this in Making Ideas Happen.

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