Ask TGD 004: So Many Ideas, So Little Time – How to Pursue the Best Ideas and Let the Good Ones Go

Emerline Ji asked us via Typeform: How do you know when to let go of some good ideas and when to roll with others? Is it based on gut feelings?

Hi Emerline,

Wow! This is a challenging question because it’s tough to let go of good ideas. We have many ideas and projects we want to work on, and it can be difficult to decide which ones to pursue, which ones to set aside and revisit later, and which ones to abandon altogether. First, we’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret: none of us can predict how our ideas will be received, so we usually trust our gut and roll with ideas that resonate with us. Even those who are experienced and appear confident don’t always know what they’re doing, which is important to remember, as photographer Helena Price pointed out when we interviewed her:

“When you’re young and starting out on your own without leadership, you don’t know whether your intuition is correct at all. You’re in a position where you’re forced to execute without knowing whether it’s right or not. But being told by people who have been doing it longer that nobody actually knows what they’re doing—and that it’s okay—was really helpful to me in the beginning. That was one of the most comforting things I’ve ever been told, but I have to remind myself of that every day.”

Although we do heavily rely on our intuition, there are a few questions we like to ask when considering whether or not we want to pursue an idea. Answering them helps us determine if an idea is actually plausible. Perhaps this exercise will help you, too:

1) Do I have a desire to work on this idea? If you have no interest in making the idea a reality, stop right there. The desire to see your idea realized is what will pull you forward when you’re faced with unexpected challenges, criticism, or setbacks. If you’re excited and passionate about the idea, then you’re off to a good start.

2) Do I have the capacity to work on this idea? Capacity includes the time, skills, and resources it will take to act on the idea. Do you have the time it will require, or can you make the time by forgoing other activities? Do you have the minimal skills and resources needed or do you know someone who might be willing to mentor you or help with tasks?

3) Does this idea serve a purpose? Define the motivation behind your idea. Do you hope to refine your skills or learn new ones? Are you trying to grow your business or fulfill a career goal? Will it be personally satisfying? Whatever the purpose, it’s important to be genuine about it—don’t do anything because others want or expect you to. Own your idea.

If we find an idea that we’re excited to work on, have the capacity to work on, and have a defined purpose for, then we try it. We might fail, but that’s okay. It’s part of the process. We love what best-selling author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin, said to us about failure when we spoke with him: “I keep looking to have enough guts to do something that might not work. The phrase, ‘This might not work,’ is something I try to say on a regular basis.” If an idea fails, we learn from the experience, move on, and try again. Designer Yaron Schoen summed this up well in his interview: “Don’t be scared of failing. If you’re scared of failing, you won’t try new things…There’s no art to it; you learn from your failures and it’s a pragmatic process. It’s about trial and error and learning from your mistakes.”

As you grow and learn from your mistakes, you’ll get better at evaluating your ideas up front, and you’ll become more in tune with which ideas you think have the most potential. You’ll have many good ideas in your lifetime, but only a few will be great. Those are the ones that won’t let you go—if you keep coming back to an idea, then maybe it’s time to try it. As musician David Bazan told us, “At a certain point, I feel like, okay, it’s f*cking time to do this and there’s no time to be precious; you go with your gut and make something.” Go with your gut, make something—and if it fails, then try, try, try again.

Hope this helps.




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