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Creative Blocks

99 Excuses For NOT Making Ideas Happen

We collect a shortlist of the most common excuses for not making ideas happen, and respond with tips for rallying yourself into action.


There’s an old Yiddish proverb that goes, “If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.” In other words, if you’re NOT doing something, what does it matter why?

We recently polled our friends on Twitter for a list of the most common excuses for NOT making ideas happen. Not surprisingly, the response was overwhelming. We can all make a list of excuses as long as our arm for why we’re not taking action.

So what’s the point of us listing them out here? Reason No. 1: To face facts. If we recognize the patterns we fall into, we can change them. Reason No. 2: To invalidate them. As an antidote to inaction, we’ve provided a counter-argument for each excuse. Don’t commiserate, instigate!

Common excuses for NOT making ideas happen:

1. I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME.
Extra time, like money, rarely just materializes out of thin air. We have to work for it. If “finding creative time” is a struggle for you, consider getting proactive about carving it out, and doing the most important work first.

2. I’M AFRAID OF FAILURE.
If we really push ourselves, we will fail more than we’ll succeed. But that’s how we gain experience, how we learn, how we grow. The greater failure is to never risk failure at all. Choreographer Twyla Tharp: “If you do only what you know and do it very, very well, chances are that you won’t fail. You’ll just stagnate, and your work will get less and less interesting, and that’s failure by erosion.”

3. I’M NOT INSPIRED.
Inspiration comes from action, not the other way around. Our friends at Red Lemon Club shared this insightful tidbit from leadership guru John C. Maxwell: “The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.”

4. I NEED TO FIND BALANCE IN MY WORK AND HOME LIFE.
Living a full, balanced life is a wonderful goal. But does that mean doing less work and having more leisure time at home, or doing better work and feeling more fulfilled? Seasoned non-conformist and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau makes the case for better work and bigger dreams, arguing that balanced people don’t change the world.

5. I CAN’T OVERCOME THE INERTIA.
Getting started can be hard. Once you’re sitting still, once you’re in your comfort zone, the easiest thing to do is just stay there. As serial entrepreneur Andy Swan has written, one of the most common mistakes when we’re just beginning a project is to “set lofty goals from a resting start.” With images of fame and success dancing in our heads, we set the bar too high, fail to make the grade, and quit because we’re discouraged. Instead, build momentum by starting with small, achievable goals, and work from there.

6. IT’S NOT ORIGINAL ENOUGH.
Originality is immaterial. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch puts it like this: “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination… Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent… Remember what Jean-Luc Godard said, ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’”

7. I’M AFRAID OF THE COMPETITION.
If someone else is doing something similar that needn’t be a reason to give up. In fact, it’s a great reason to get more excited. As Seth Godin has said, competition validates your idea by creating a category. It also lights a fire under your ass.

8. I GOT MY EXPECTATIONS TOO HIGH JUST THINKING ABOUT IT…
It’s easy to get high on the idea of executing your idea. You daydream about how great it will be, the recognition and acclaim that will inevitably follow its launch. You build it up so much that the reality of actually executing the idea starts to seem unappealing. Ze Frank calls these un-executed ideas “brain crack” – it’s a dangerous addiction.

9. IT’S NOT THE RIGHT MOMENT TO DO IT.
Occasionally, this excuse has the merit of actually being valid. Twitter creator Jack Dorsey had the idea for the service back in 2000. Unfortunately, the technology that would help Twitter thrive wasn’t in place yet. But how did he recognize this? Dorsey did a small-scale implementation of the idea that flopped. Even though it failed then, the exercise crystallized the idea in his mind, and Dorsey was able to revive it later when the timing was right.

10. I HAVE TO PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST.
At this year’s 99U Conference, author and entrepreneur Frans Johansson argued that humans are very bad at predicting which ideas are going to be a success. Thus, nearly every major breakthrough innovation has been preceded by a string of failed or misguided executions. The moral of the story? Spend more time doing, and less time planning.

11. THE PRODUCTION IS TAKING TOO LONG.
Nobody ever said creative execution was sexy. In fact, it’s grueling. Author Junot Diaz battled writers block for 5 years before finishing his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Inventor James Dyson built over 5,000 prototypes before he found the right design for his vacuum. And the list goes on. We must find joy in the process of execution, not just the end product.

12. THE IDEA ISN’T POLISHED ENOUGH YET.
Charles Darwin spent 20 years developing his theory of natural selection, and planned to eventually publish his research in a multi-volume tome. But in 1858, he received a letter from the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace essentially summarizing the theory he’d been cultivating over decades. Darwin scrapped his plans for a tome and quickly published his now-famous abstract, On the Origin of Species. Without Wallace nipping at his heels, though, how long might Darwin have gone on perfecting his world-changing theory? Sometimes it’s best to launch a project before it’s “perfect.”

13. I NEED TO DO MARKET RESEARCH.
If you think about real, game-changing inventions and discoveries – the electric lightbulb, the double helix of DNA, the airplane – almost none of them had the support of the masses in the early days. Being a visionary means being able to see what other people can’t even imagine. That’s why companies like Apple don’t do market research.

14. I HAVE YOUNG CHILDREN.
This excuse reminded us of a great piece from writer Rebecca Cantrell, who struggled with the impact her newborn had on her writing. Though initially she lost her will to work as she focused on child-rearing, Cantrell found – in watching her son’s willingness to experiment and fail and never give up – that the experience actually inspired her and improved her writing practice.

15. I’VE GOT TO PAY THE BILLS.
Going with the status quo, we tend to give high priority to things like wealth and stability. And once we have them, it’s extremely difficult to imagine life without them. (To wit: “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”) But should these things come at the expense of pursuing big, bold ideas? Paying the bills won’t necessarily earn you a legacy.

16. – 99. We highlighted our 15 “favorite” excuses above. For the full list of 99+ excuses submitted by our Twitter army, you can go here.

For the submission above, we thank:

What’s Holding You Back?

What’s keeping you from taking action on your idea? Do you have any lessons learned to share?

Comments (43)
  • Joann Sondy

    #2 Speaks directly to me (as well as Scott’s book). If Ms Tharp has said “never stop learning” or “never stop challenging yourself” I doubt it would have had the same impact on my mind and soul.

  • Megan Winter

    I love this!

    Sarah Ban Breathnac put it so well when she said “THE WORLD NEEDS DREAMERS, AND THE WORLD NEEDS DOERS, BUT MOST OF ALL THE WORLD NEEDS DREAMERS WHO DO…”.

    Let’s face it, ideas are a dime a dozen. Some ideas are better than others but we all have them. Above anything, taking that first step towards making your idea happen is the most important step you’ll ever take. Another gem of a quote I love, which I picked up from Michael at http://www.edgeware.com.au, is “action precedes clarity”. Taking the first step is hard, but after you make it things will fall into place.. after all it’s your idea, you know how to make it work better than anyone, and if you don’t you’ll figure it out!

  • maricia

    Dreamers are our unique designers for the future!

  • Nathaniel

    When i think about what it is that keeps me behind i can honestly say all of the above.. I’m a father and the only bread winner. I never have time to action my ideas even though i think i really do have some amazing ideas. I’m always making excuses as too why i’m not doing what i want to do… This article has opened my eyes… Thank you 99%

  • Klangwelt

    This is really mind blowing. Now i really feel that i can get up and just go out there and shine without any fear. Yeah, i recognized myself a little bit in all of the points, but mostly the competition part… I always felt that everybody else on this world was better than me. Thank you for this amazing post!:)

  • Wyn

    There is great wisdom weaving it’s way through these few typical excuses. Possibly excuse 10 is the one I need to take most notice of at the moment.

  • M. Acevedo

    I think #2 leads to the rest. If you’re afraid of failure, it can be hard getting started on a project, and you will feel like you’re not inspired. so, you start looking at other people’s work and your design looks similar to theirs… making you feel like your design is not original enough. You need to just get down to your work and make it happen

  • Andre Pais

    I really loved this post! Just recentelly I created a brand of tshirts and it has given me a lot o pleasure in developing it. Before starting it, I also used some of this excuses…mainly being afraid of failure! However I just started creating it, rather than planing and imagining it, and now I’ve created a brand that I am proud of! But this is just the beginning, the real challenge comes in keeping up the creative process and never give up. I think some people have very big expectations in just a short period of time, and because they don’t achive them, they just give up. It is important to keep a positive atitude!

    I’m in the beginning part of my brand, I’ll do my best so that all goes well. This post really inpired me even more. Thank you!

  • Yusuf Chowdhury

    I recall my friend and mentor in business used to remind me that ” Excuses are nothing but poor reasons to be useless!” I have to agree on that.

  • Su

    Great article. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Meri

    I agree with all the points. Making small task lists help.

  • Ryan Ruud

    I’m pretty much in love with this post. Thanks!

  • DaveWilson

    I think the link to the rest of the 99 is broken. When I click the link I’m taken to a TwapperKeeper Site that want’s me to log in? Do I really need to do that to see the rest of these?

  • 99U

    I think TwapperKeeper did something to their links. I just updated the link above, and you shouldn’t have to log in. There’s still a login message at the top, but just scroll down: http://twapperkeeper.com/hasht

  • Prerna

    this is an awesome blog which i found through delicious….I completely agree with most of these points…we have to manage our lives well and in advance…

  • Nathan Hangen

    I think the biggest struggle for me is creating when I’m not motivated/inspired, but you’re right…you just have to do it.

  • br

    Good one!
    …especially… ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’; well said.

  • Dos Limones

    I’m reading a very good book on procrastination at the moment which asks you to list what sort of excuses you give for not doing something, or putting something off until the last minute, and a lot of these come up. One of the things the book does say, which I’m inclined to agree with, is that make sure the reason you’re putting an idea off isn’t because you actually don’t really want it or it’s not in line with your values. Many people live their lives thinking they should want something because their parents told them/their other half wants to etc. If an idea isn’t in line with your core beliefs, you’re never going to fully commit to it.

  • Danuta Antas

    Great, really fantastic article. I am so happy to read it here. All the excuses where my own for many years. I have managed to overcome them all, yet it took me some time to do it. Now, what I see here, it wasn’t only my problem. It seems to be a world disease:) In Poland we have similar saying that “if you really want to do something, you look for opportunities, if you do not want, you look for excuses.”
    Thank you for raising this theme:)

  • Nicholas Hammond

    I think its hard to separate ourselves from the excuse of being distracted by social medias since frequently we, as designers, need to market ourselves on social media so checkin our pages often is a must…and thus we can get distracted quickly. Kinda a never ending loop

  • Dove

    Very inspirational.

  • Jen Fromal

    This is a really great post that basically calls bullshit on a lot of excuses. It’s all about having an idea and fearlessly running with it until you see it to fruition and not being bogged down by naysayers.. whether it’s external criticism or personal doubt.

  • mikecullen

    Love that Jarmusch quote!

  • Webapp Rater

    One of the great post… I bookmarked it & Ofcourse I’ll re-read again whenever my chips are down…

  • Nat

    Really loved this article and am now a subscriber to behance emails! I know the whole positive attitude idea has kind of become overrated lately but have realized that making conscious efforts to be happy even when i’m feeling terribly overwhelmed is quite helpful. Laughter really does help. This video on the benefits of meditation through laughter shows it all!
    http://shrt.fm/hL7ij8

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