Conventional wisdom: Dream big.
On the contrary: Dream big, then grow up.
Innovation is like childhood--the most interesting part is that you never know what the hell is happening.
When you're creating a new market, you have to start out like a kid, asking obvious questions, trying everything to figure out what works and, of course, taking big risks because you don't know any better. At first, it's an adventure. Then, it's exhausting.
The trap that failed entrepreneurs fall into is imagining that big ideas alone lead to success. The real secret is learning to execute, and that's a lesson that requires you to grow the hell up.
There Are No Golden Tickets
Between insta-success TV shows and charismatic college-dropout CEOs, it's easy to see innovation as a playground for the young. Don't get me wrong--youth can be an advantage. I love working with recent graduates because they have fresh perspectives and new thoughts.
My take-home message is that young or old, the breakout business stars who grab the spotlight come with more than big dreams and good ideas. It isn't just about luck (though there's often a bit of good fortune involved). They're actually paddling really hard upstream.
Unfortunately, the people who are most effective at selling an idea are often the ones who know the least about how much trouble it's going to be to execute. Spend one evening trolling crowdfunding sites, and you'll find a trail of brilliant ideas that fizzled into nothingness when faced with the hard part: manufacturing and selling their product.
If you've put your money into any of these ventures, I hope you at least got a T-shirt out of it. If you're on the other side of the equation, you've got to be positioned to provide what you promised or look like a clueless jerk--or worse.
Escapism Is Not A Business Plan
Life gets tough sometimes. Working for someone else can wear you down. Exciting things are happening around you, but you're not part of them. At times like these, it's easy to slip into magical thinking about running your own business. The more you daydream, the more you feel you're within striking distance.
But if you think that way--a way in which everything is possible--it's an escape, and an escape is not a business plan. There's a gaping chasm between daydreaming about running a business and actually doing it. Unfortunately, there's not much out there in popular culture today that admits that. As the old adage goes, the proof is in the pudding. Simply having the idea and the ingredients without the full recipe for success will get you nowhere.
Return from Neverland
So what to do with that brilliant idea percolating in your brain? Actually do something with it. Talk to people who know what they're doing. Start saving money. Think about the tiny, boring, un-sexy details. Map out a plan, make a budget, take some risks and throw everything you have behind that idea of yours.
Every success story starts with an impossible, childlike idea, but they never end there. Don't let Peter Pan's problem be your fatal business flaw--get off your ass and make it happen.