I recently did an idea purge. As I've shared in the past, I love committing my thoughts down onto index cards (TL;DR, they are simple, portable and organizable). As I have decluttered over recent months, I realized my pile of cards has gotten out of hand. The most amazing discovery: A new idea I thought I came up with was written on a piece of paper from a year before! Talk about going in circles.
Via the Observer's Jessica Abel, author Kazu Kibuishi had a great term for this psychological weight: Idea debt.
I try not to to look at what I'm going to do as this amazing great grand thing. I'm not just fulfilling some old promise that I made a long time ago. Now I'm actually solving problems in the moment, and that's so much more exciting than than trying to fill years of what I like to call my "idea debt." That's when you have this dream of this awesome thing for years. You think, "Oh, I'm going to do this epic adventure. It's going to be so great." The truth is, no matter what you do, it will never be as great as it is in your mind, and so you're really setting yourself up for failure.
Kibuishi is talking about perfectionism: Waiting for the perfect time to start the perfect idea. Entrepreneurs (and, in a tip to my background, journalists) can't have this perfectionist approach because we A) have to bow to bigger deadlines and B) we would never survive as entrepreneurs. Point me to a founder who believes her product is perfect to ship and I'll show you someone who won't be a founder for long. There are always more ways to improve a product or service. Getting to market is the only reason why we should stop.
If perfectionism isn't the big problem for entrepreneurs, then what is the issue? Idealism. Underlying Kibuishi's description is the idealization, the grand structure, the bells and whistles of our great scheme. And the idealization, structure and bells and whistles of another great scheme. Oh, and the other one we have, too. As entrepreneurs, we often have too many things planned out that weigh on our daily lives. At least for me, the "cool ideas" I have are far outweighing the time, energy and, frankly, quality control I'm able to muster.
So, ideas are getting killed. Slaughtered. Put out to pasture. Index cards have been chucked, unfinished manuscripts have been tossed, and untouched research has been recycled.
Here's are three questions I ask with every jotted note:
1) Why haven't I executed on it yet? Again, I found ideas from a decade ago. From my passionate productivity to my sacrifice of sleep, I've managed to pursue and complete many goals. Chances are, there is a legitimate reason why this idea is on an old scrap of paper versus being a properly executed plan.
2) Why am I holding on to it? Often, the idea of something is way more powerful than the will to create it. And if it is that powerful of an idea, then it will come back stronger after you dump it.
3) Why am I defending it? By keeping that idea lingering you have to, by nature, defend it against criticism from others and even from yourself - otherwise, the idea would have been forgotten long ago. Unfortunately, we are so encouraged to defend our ideas and our beliefs, it's easy to neglect that we've outgrown them. And those ideas take space from potential new projects.
As I've purged my unfinished, incomplete ideas, I've realized how much ego I have tied up into what could be. What idea should you be letting go?