Idea Management for Entrepreneurs

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1. Record Every Idea

Don’t just think about it and keep it in your head.
No matter what idea you have, WRITE or TYPE it down immediately.
Get it recorded before you lose it in your chemical thunderstorm of a brain. Focus on the main concept. Once it’s down, feel free to continue adding to it with related ideas, more details, possibilities, questions, and next steps. Run with the energy.

Make sure you can record ideas anywhere you are and synchronize your notes on them. Personally I use Evernote which synchronizes notes across my cell phone, laptop, and desktop computer.
The objective is to turn this process into a useful habit that will effectively and efficiently manage ALL of your ideas.

2. Revisit Ideas Later

There are two good reasons to revisit ideas later.
Firstly, if you spend too much time on a single idea without giving it a rest, you’ll notice a diminishing return on your time. You’ll be brainstorming ideas that would otherwise be ruled out if you had just waited and approached the concept with a fresh mind.
Let your subconscious work its magic.

Secondly, there’s always something more important to be doing right now than exploring your latest idea. Your immediate time is best spent on what is already providing direct benefit. Ideas don’t provide short term benefit; only through long term execution do ideas pay off.
When you revisit your idea, add to it. Do a little research and answer some of the questions you’ve had in the back of your mind.

3. Remove Terrible Ideas

After revisiting ideas you’ll notice yourself become more objective. You’ll see all the times you were just caught up in the moment. You’ll start appreciating the process of idea management as you become more effective.
This step is intended to remove the embarrassingly stupid ideas that ALL of us come up with every once in awhile. Okay, more than once in awhile.
Always keep an open mind though, just because your original idea was stupid doesn’t mean a related or subsequent idea is bad. This is why we revisit ideas, to be more objective and to look at things in different perspectives.

If you’re truly following this process, recording ALL your ideas, this step will result in removing dozens of stupid ideas. It’s okay! Why? Because for every dozen you delete, there’ll be one or two decent ones that might make it through the next steps.

4. Research The Remaining Ideas

You can’t think through your entire idea from start to finish without researching it more. You need feedback, you need context.
Here’s some questions to answer in your research:

  • What resources would you need to accomplish this?
  • Is there already something like this available?
  • Is it necessary/useful?
  • Who cares about this?
  • Could it be adapted? Can you think of some related ideas?
  • How could you make money from this? Can it be profitable?

5. Remove Bad Ideas

After researching further you may find there’s already something that will accomplish what you were thinking. Maybe you find out no one wants your thing. Maybe you realize the technical challenges for accomplishing your idea are far beyond your expectations and capacity.

Through research you’ll obtain information, a type of feedback, that helps you determine if your idea makes it to the next level of time investment or not.
Keep track of which step/level your individual ideas are at. This should be self-evident from your notes/feelings. However, some ideas could get mushed together with everything else that is going on and you may lose track of your best ideas and their research status.

6. Talk to people

People have a lot of stupid ideas and this is why we are afraid to share them immediately. We wait and think them through so as to save embarrassment. This isn’t very productive, because talking to people is the fastest way to make progress. However, it’s not nice to constantly bug your friends about your new idea every week.

Now that you’ve determined your idea isn’t bad, talk to your target market, perfect customer/user, or whoever will listen to you. You need feedback from other people to gain a more objective perspective on the idea. This is a very crucial part of the process of idea management.

People will also direct you to where the value lies. Markets win every time, not the ideas.
After gaining experience constantly conducting market research you’ll learn to determine the source of feedback as relevant or not. If the person isn’t in your target market, their feedback is usually useless. The point is to start understanding who your market really is. This could require talking to dozens, or sometimes more than a hundred people about it extensively.

7. Remove or Archive So-So Ideas

Now that you’ve done some research/planning and gathered your initial feedback it’s time to remove the ideas that just aren’t as great as they first seemed. There is always another opportunity around the corner. If you think there may be an improvement or opportunity down the road, archive the idea for later.

As you obtain more experience in idea management you’ll get better at judging the completeness of your initial feedback. If you talked to a couple dozen people and no one was interested, many people would stop there. As an experienced entrepreneur you’ll be able to gauge when it’s right to keep on going or to stop wasting your time.

8. Do Something

If all you do is think, plan, and talk to people you’ll never actually make anything. The next step is to start doing something. Talk to vendors, recruit a team, make a prototype, try making a sale, etc.
Entrepreneurship is all about speed and implementation. Fail fast & often. Remember that.

You’ll never have a perfect plan, and writing a business plan is just pretending to be in control of things you can’t actually control.

9. Gather Real Feedback

Before you “complete” your ENTIRE business you need real life feedback. This needs to be based on something you have actually done besides thinking, planning, and talking to people. This could be a mockup, prototype, or actual product/service. This obtaining “real” feedback on something you have done will show you misconceptions, new applications, and might even land you a sale.

Invest as much effort, time, and money into the idea as you’re willing to in order to gather feedback so as to judge its potential. These last two steps: doing something and getting real feedback, encompasses everything you need to help you decide whether or not to commit 100%. So risk what time you’re willing.

10. Be Critical

Now that you’ve completed all of the above, it’s time to be super critical.
Decide which ideas are not worth your time RIGHT NOW. Play devil’s advocate, or have someone else play the role.

You may think it’s still a good idea, but the question in this stage is whether or not it’s worth your time, based on everything else you could be doing.
What is your opportunity cost? Is this really the best use of your skills, resources, and connections?
Is this something better undertaken after building skills, resources, or connections in your industry?
Congratulate yourself on the effort you’ve taken up to this point. When you sum all of your efforts you’ll realize how much progress you’ve actually made.

11. Commit 100%

If you’re 100% certain you’re willing to take a risk on this idea based on the massive amount of planning, research, work, and real world feedback obtained… then it’s time to commit.
If you’re still a tiny bit unsure if the idea will work and succeed, better leave it be for awhile longer. There’s always another opportunity around the corner.

Lastly, but far from least important: consider your internal drive for this idea. Is it a passion of yours or are you just taking an opportunity in the marketplace to generate revenue? This is probably one of the most important factors for success.

It’s most optimal when you can find an opportunity in the marketplace that happens to fit with one of your passions; however, this is rare. Hopefully, it at least holds some interest in you.
Imagine yourself going through the process making this idea into a realty. It could consume a few years of your life; ask yourself if you’ll enjoy it, or just the $$$?

When the outcome is uncertain, you should probably be certain you’ll enjoy or benefit from the process. Ask yourself: would you work on this project for 5 years without pay? (even if just part time)

Also remember: Passion is NOT something you’re ‘interested in’. It’s something that excites you like nothing else.

By following this idea management process, you’ll start seeing the bigger picture and eventually make sense of the beautiful chaos that is your mind.

  • LLBrady2

    I really liked this post — it has inspired me to DO something. There was a woman who did her Harvard thesis around great entrepreneurs and whether or not their brains worked differently. Much of what she discovered supports your points above (particularly your comments around a business plan — without exception, all the successful entrepreneurs she interviewed/tested spent little effort on business plans). Thanks.

  • CJ

    Absolutely awesome.