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Battling the Half-Life of Idea Execution

Is launching a new idea the same thing as "finishing" it? A reflection on the challenges of nurturing our ideas when the novelty has worn off.

Creative people have the tendency to generate tons of ideas. What’s not exciting about brainstorming new ideas?  It’s intoxicating and fun. It hones your innovative thinking and nurtures your creativity at the same time. Of course, the real challenge begins when you come across an idea that you like. A lot of people I know struggle with pushing an idea into motion. Something about rolling up their sleeves and getting started is scary. However, my challenge is a bit different. My struggle is focusing on any one idea for an extended period of time.Over the past year, I’ve launched an online network, an email newsletter, and produced numerous innovation conferences. I’ve also wanted to start an online savings bank, a speakeasy bar, and a health insurance company. If you think these ideas are totally random, it’s because they are.Upon reflection, I think my love of idea generation has become an escape hatch for when I start to second guess myself in the midst of long-term execution. When things aren’t going as well as planned with a venture, new ideas appear more attractive. And so I quickly jump to something new.  As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

When things aren’t going as well as planned with a venture, new ideas appear more attractive.

Yet by not focusing on one or two ideas long enough, I’ve spread myself too thin over too many – thus reducing my chances of success. These mistakes have prompted a new year’s resolution: To stop generating new ideas and focus my energy on a lucky few.

Throughout my creative journey, I’ve picked up a few tips that are helping me focus on long-term execution:

1.  Creativity should be less about creating new ideas, and more about focusing on a few.

You will gain valuable experience by enduring the hardships and obstacles that come with committing to fully pursuing your ideas to success or failure. This knowledge will lead to success in your current idea or the next one. Blake from TOMS Shoes started his entrepreneurial career with a laundry pick-up service in college. The laundry pick-up service was a small success, but it was also a step in the direction of TOMS. Gaining experience is necessary to develop better filters for your ideas.

2.  Know where you’re going before you go there.

My colleague Scott Belsky of Behance gave me this critical piece of advice which I’ve followed religiously over the past couple of years. It’s easier to figure it out as you go, but much harder to put a stake in the ground 5 years down the road. By committing to a goal or milestone in the future, decision-making in the present becomes much easier. If you want to be a professional photographer, what are you doing today that puts you one step closer to that goal?

3.  Plan your life in 5-year blocks. 

Robert LeBlanc of LRGNOLA offered me this insight during my recent time off in New Orleans. He noticed that I planned my professional goals in 1-year increments, which caused me to never commitment wholeheartedly to anything.  Approaching my creativity and business with a 5-year filter allows me to commit to the long-run without any distractions. Doing this helps me discard seductive ideas that, while exciting, are not part of my 5-year goals.

In order for innovation to really occur, we need to stop launching new ideas and focus on a few (whether they succeed or fail). Your next idea will be better because of it.

Michael Karnjanaprakorn is the co-founder of All Day Buffet and By/Association among other projects. He is also a Behance team alum. You can follow his updates on Twitter.

Comments (5)
  • Nathan N.

    A former CEO of McKinsey. arguably the top consulting firm int he world, also recommends 5 year plans.

  • Robbie

    Good wisdom, earned through experience and keen observation. Keep sharing the gems

  • Daniel Christadoss

    This is timely advice. We can go of at a tangent and not focus.

  • Erick

    As an idea man myself, I completely understand. I’ve often tried to carry too much until I reach that point of exhaustion and simply have to let go. I think that much of it has to do with being curious and fascinated with the world around us. There is simply too much that we want to do and to experience. I’ve moved up a little from a month to month planning, but I think that even longer might be called for. I think this is something that most of us quietly know, but thanks for saying it out loud.


  • Sagar Kogekar

    That is indeed a good advice. But heres my experience. I came up with a couple of ideas and implemented them as well… like or but I realized that the moment an idea becomes old, there are better versions of the product emerging in the market, or then there are new technologies coming up almost everyday to make my ideas, history. I think more ideas should not be stopped, but they should be nurtured with more man power. May be am wrong, but what do you think?

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