How to make your ideas real

21 August 2014
21 Aug 2014
West Lafayette, IN
7 mins

Last Monday, I talked about the importance of choosing to trust in your ideas and having the courage to follow through with it. But when you get down to it, having an idea and executing it to meet a goal are two radically different things, and usually, the latter of the two can seem a little bit too daunting at first. So today I’d like to offer my two cents on the topic.

I think making ideas real is really mostly a three-step process of going from an idea to a product, then releasing the product to the right market for it. This could apply to a concrete commercial product (such as an idea for an app) or a personal project (like a blog or a club). There are certainly many, many more methods of approaching a problem, but I use this process and it tends to work out for me rather well. So if you’re up for it, let’s get started on making that idea of yours real. (You might want to grab some popcorns; this post ended up being a little lengthy)

1. Get an Idea.

To make it easier for the both of us, let’s take an example. Suppose I want to create a community of writers who wants to encourage each other and help each other specfically for participating in NaNoWriMo. That’s an idea: a community of experienced and novice writers for the national novel writing month. Now we need to begin narrowing things down to something more specific, so we can make an executable plan from it. For example, what’s the targeted market of this “product”? In other words, who can be in this community? In this case, I’d say I want to invite any student from my high school regardless of the level of experience. How should the community communicate? In this case, it’s not something too large in scope or too permanent, so I could go with a Facebook group.

A very useful and potentially critical aspect of your idea to consider when crafting it mentally is the value that it delivers. No project can survive for long without a concrete mission, but it can’t flourish without a set of core values that you, the creator, and anyone else involved in the project believe in. These don’t necessarily have to be related to the idea in any direct way. In my writing community example, the goal of this idea is to deliver an encouraging experience in writing for those involved. So I could say our values are community and human creativity. These values are important both in crafting your idea into an actual thing, and in marketing, or notifying, people about your idea in an effective way.

2. Design a Product.

Now that there’s a rather solid idea to be put out into the world, it needs to be made into something that’s real, not just a concept. I like to think of this process as akin to designing something, because you are really designing a product of some kind. The product may be a service, it may be a website, it may be a community, environment, or an activity. In the case of the example we’re using, the product is the community of writers. It’s an environment where people can be encouraged to write to their style and taste. So really, here, the product isn’t a community, it’s an environment, and the experience of being in the environment of encouraging writing has to be designed. During this step, the two best things you can do are 1) research and 2) get a partner if you can. Research at this point in time will both help you create a better product before it goes out into the world, and help you along the way in the future when there’s a problem. And by having a partner, you can benefit from bouncing ideas off of each other while also ensuring that it’s just that much more difficult to give up when it get’s a bit tough.

So when I’m designing this environment that is my product, I may create a Facebook page, find some people who may be prospective members, and design flyers and think about how to get people to join. In crafting your great idea into a real product there are three to four main things to consider. The first is the concept itself, and the research-and-development associated with it. even if everything else is perfect, if your idea isn’t executed well, it’ll be difficult to succeed. So researching a lot and developing a solid basis to work with is best. Second, you’ll usually want other people to know that you created this thing. Sometimes, you may want to stay anonymous. But regardless, you’ll almost always want to let people know that you’ve made this thing, and why they should be a part of it in some way, either by buying something or otherwise contributing to it. In my case, that would be how to increase membership through marketing. Thirdly, if you’re idea involves a real product involving manufacturing or otherwise leads to a revenue-producing business, you’ll want to consider how the people involved and the work involved will be distributed and organize. Along the way, don’t forget to work out the financial details. If you’re thinking about generating revenue, it’s a good idea to consult an expert in that field. I’d also recommend you to the book Creativity for Sale by entrepreneur and professional shirt wearer Jason SurfrApp, where he combs through the process in much greater detail.

3. Get it to the Right People.

By this point in time, you have a solid product that you want to get into people’s hands. Depending on what you’ve created, this process can greatly differ. But I think there are a few things that are relevant to the vast majority of all projects. The first is finding the right market. No matter how ingenious your idea is, it will not appeal to everyone on the globe. So it’s critical that you can find the right people at which to pitch your idea. For my particular example, I would consider the “market” of my product anyone who wants to write but maybe can’t find a time or reason to do it all the time.

Once you actually have the right market in mind, you need to think about how best to reach those audiences. I tend to go with a combination of using social media and just talking to people, one on one, by email or in person. This process is pretty straightforward if your idea involves producing a concrete product. If you have an idea that’s about an event or something else not involving concrete products, there’s probably an audience you’re trying to reach. Maybe you’re trying to get people to do something or come to an event. Another good thing to be thinking about when you are discussing your idea with others is to talk with your values at the core of the idea, not the idea itself. Arguing that you value creativity and you love the art of writing, and because of that you’ve made an environment where people can write freely and be creative appeals to the listener more than arguing about the benefits of writing a novel in a month.

In the process of developing an idea into something real, possibly the most important key to success is the attitude with which you approach the process. As cliche as it may sound, no one will fail who keeps trying. There will undoubtedly be problems that pop up in your process to make your ideas real, but the key is to prevent those small problems from stopping you from believing in your idea and going somewhere with it. After all, this blog was at one point in time just a pencil scribble on the back of a flyer. And while it’s nothing huge at this point, it’s something. And there is an infinite gap between what I have now and what I had before.

Here's to the Crazy Ones

The human factor

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