How should people go about turning pipe dreams into established projects? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Elyse Burden, Co-founder + CEO of Real World Scholar, on Quora:

While every idea will go a different direction, every project benefits from:

  • Talking to your people.
  • Learning like your life depends on it.
  • Starting where you are.

Talk to your people. If you haven't yet, you will need to start talking about it with people who matter (your roommate is a great start but you'll need to move onto your customer/user/target audience soon). I was at a gathering last year with a lot of young entrepreneurs - many of whom had yet to start their first thing. They were full of energy and enthusiasm and told me all about their idea to (insert something cool and unique and game-changing). When I asked about their users, it became clear that many of these entrepreneurs were so excited about their new idea, they had forgotten to talk to people who would use it - their customers. One guy wanted to start a teacher training program - despite the fact that he had never been a teacher and hadn't actually talked to teachers or school leaders about whether or not they'd be interested. His chances of success are so slim. He forgot to talk to his people.

Entrepreneurship 101, your idea is less about you and more about the people you're serving. If you're hoping to start a company, your customers should the most important voice in your ideation process. If you want to start a social good project, your beneficiaries and the communities you serve need to be engaged. While I appreciate the stories of passionate entrepreneurs who clung to their singular vision and didn't listen to the haters, unless it's entirely a solo project, your idea will need to meet other people where they're at. This will require real conversations with real people, learning more about their needs and how they move through the world. Go to your people, asks them the right questions, they will show you the way.

2. Learn like your life depends on it. I always feel uncomfortable when someone shares their big idea only to learn that they're not the first one to have it - and they didn't even know it. Don't make the assumption that because you haven't heard about your idea out in the world, it doesn't exist. Learn the ecosystem - who is already doing what work, what environmental factors will affect your project, where are resources strapped and where is there more money flow. Find out what similar projects have failed and why.  Become an expert on the space. And don't be threatened by existing programs, products, or projects. Learn about them early; it hurts less and gives you the chance to evolve early. As an added bonus - the learning process will inevitably unearth more tangible assets you can use when making your idea a reality (like cool organizations, opportunities, etc.)

3. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Starting is the hardest part, especially if your vision includes something grandiose or seemingly out-of-reach. Every idea starts with a single proverbial stone. Projects are built piece by piece, stage by stage, and those middle stages are rarely as cool, exciting, beautiful as the total vision.

Scan your perimeter asking, "what people, resources, or opportunities around me could be relevant to this project?" Your college mentor, your neighbor, the person who runs the food pantry you volunteer at, people who could benefit from the project, people who have shared interests - map them all. (As a side note: An ecosystem map that organizes folks into categories [resource providers, allies, beneficiaries, opponents and influential bystanders] can also be a helpful lens when thinking about the folks around you. If you can't list any people in your orbit, it might not be the right time or project for you as that means you're not positioned close enough to your idea yet. )

I always like putting a central goal in the center of an ecosystem map. If you aren't ready to name that goal, you will benefit from taking the time to do a braindump before you complete an ecosystem map. Take an hour to get visual, getting all of the ideas out of your head and onto a big surface (pad of paper, whiteboard, etc.) It's good to see all of your ideas down, next to one another. While this part of the process can go 100 different directions, I would suggest grouping your ideas into relevant or helpful categories, decide which are ideas or categories are mission critical, and determine the easiest starting point. Be ready to get strategic, creative, and flexible with a starting point. Once you determine which part of your project you want to tackle first, place it into the center of your ecosystem map and begin looking for (and calling!) people in your orbit who might be good partners in crime, undercover experts, and energized connectors.

In whatever way makes sense, getting started will require you to be brave and ship your idea. Talk to people, take all of the free learning you can, and get started wherever possible. Ultimately, your idea can't ever become more if you never let it out to breathe.

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Published on: Feb 20, 2019