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Why 'Idea' Should Be a Verb

Ideas without action aren't ideas--they're regrets.

In the dictionary “idea” is a noun. Idea really should be a verb, because an idea is not real until you turn your inspiration into action.

I should know. I've had lots of ideas, but I've acted on very few of them.

For example, when I was graduating from college the fitness boom was still in its infancy. (Save the old jokes.) When companies like Nautilus introduced the first commercial weight training machines, strength training started to appeal to the average person.

Layer in aerobics classes and Easter egg spandex combinations and millions of people started to work out.

I saw an early Nautilus demo in New York and thought, “Hey, there's a real opportunity here. I should open a gym.” I thought about it a lot, scouted locations, talked to manufacturers and lenders… but thinking and planning is all I did.

Thirty years later I still feel a twinge of regret whenever I see a Gold’s or Crunch or Bally.

The same is true with computers. I owned one of the first Kaypro II “portables.” (It weighed about 25 pounds but was technically portable.)

I was hardly a programmer but I did know more about computers than many people... and when IBM-compatible computers started to hit the market I thought seriously about opening a retail store. (Remember, this was pre-Dell.) One manufacturer was even willing to front most of the capital because they wanted to quickly establish storefront distribution channels.

While in retrospect the opportunity would have been relatively short-lived, for about 10 years that business might have thrived… if I had done more than just think about it, that is.

The list goes on. Years ago a friend decided the home healthcare industry was on the verge of exploding. He asked me to go into business with him. I thought about it a lot and helped him flesh out his financials and refine his start-up plan… but I never pulled the trigger.

Today he has locations in 15 cities.

The only connection I have with the business is that I will probably be a customer someday.

Sure, I can console myself by thinking that hindsight is perfect and that I had no way of knowing how those opportunities would turn out. But that's only partly true. Even at the time I felt sure those ideas were great.

Instead of acting, though, I let “idea” stay a noun and didn’t make it a verb. Fitness and computers and home healthcare weren’t really ideas, because ideas without action aren't ideas.

They’re regrets.

Every day, would-be entrepreneurs let hesitation and uncertainty stop them from acting on an idea. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure are what stopped me, and may be what stops you, too.

Think about a few of the ideas you've had, whether for a new business, a new career, or even just a part-time job.

In retrospect, how many of your ideas could have turned out well, especially if you had given the opportunity your best effort? Would a decent percentage have turned out well?

My guess is, probably so… so try trusting your analysis, your judgment, and even your instincts a little more.

You certainly won’t get it right all the time, but if you let “idea” stay a noun, you will always get it wrong.

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Last updated: Mar 27, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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