There's no such thing as competition. The world is big enough for two people in the same space.
I learned pretty quickly that almost all of the ideas that I could come up with already existed in some fashion in the world.
It took me a much longer time to come to terms with the fact that this is perfectly normal and to be expected.
Creation requires Influence
Copying, transforming, and combining ideas are the basic ingredients of creativity. It's all about identifying the parts of existing ideas that you think you can improve upon, make better, and add your own personal touch to. Once you get your own version out there, you'll likely find that someone else agrees with the way you see it.
James Altucher likens this to having "idea babies," where Mom and Dad idea go out and have a nice night on the town, share a glass of wine, and come together and collide to create something new and fresh.
Finding your next project
This article took me a long time to write. Because, in the middle of writing it, I hit a huge lull in passion and a shortage of ideas that made sense to work on.
My side project that I had turned into my full-time project took an unexpected dip in sales for the month, and I became anxious about ensuring that the work I was producing was good enough and that people would care enough about it to pay for it, in turn, keeping my business running.
Any time that I've scrambled to come up with an idea just so that I can make some money from it, I've completely stumbled and the work that resulted was not of the quality that I expect of myself.
So, how'd I break out of it?
A simple tweet from Brad Frost recentered me: it reminded me to stop trying so hard.
Too many people get paralyzed because they think too hard… just make progress. Just do it.
There's no industry secret or skeleton key that needs to be discovered to make everything work. It's these simple little reminders that can help you regain focus and keep you pushing toward your goals.
How else can we clearly decide what to work on, what has room for improvement, and what iteration people might pay to use? Here are some other little reminders to explore.
Dam up the Information Stream
Try to get rid of the endless distractions. Turn off push notifications and email alerts. Unsubscribe from newsletters and email blasts that aren't helping you achieve your goals. Reduce the amount of useless information that fills your mind.
News, Facebook, TV, movies etc. are all desserts for me. Unfollow these streams during your most productive hours. If it is important and relevant, you'll hear about it and can actively look it up at a more appropriate time.
Stop trying to remember all of that mess in your head. Get it down on paper and make it messy. Scribble schematics. Write incomplete sentences. Get the core message across.
This will free up your mind so that you can use that space for productive purposes instead of something that paper or a text document can easily do for you.
One of the hardest things to do is absolutely nothing. As a culture and as individuals, we need to learn to stop glorifying busy.
Your brain is just like any other muscle in your body. If you don't work it hard enough, it will atrophy; if you work it too hard, it will become too stressed to perform well.
Hustle isn't everything. Listen to and abide by your natural instincts. You will know when you should be working and when you should be relaxing. Almost all of my effective ideas have come when nothing else is on my mind – in the shower, taking a hike, lying in bed.
Minimize Your Appeal
In "Choose Yourself," James Altucher mentions a story of how a friend of his created a service for potential homebuyers that were looking specifically for rent-to-own properties.
He created a database of all the houses in the US that are rent to own. How did he create the dataset? He looked at about a dozen other databases keeping track of all housing data and scraped specifically the rent-to-own properties off of them.
Leverage the resources that surround you to create something that fulfills your specific goals.
Just for practice, mimic one of your favorite public projects that isn't your own. Build it your way, and find out what you hate while you're building it.
While building it, you'll have some questions that you can answer. Did you run into a tool during the process which you think you can make better? Is there another way you can iterate upon the project to improve upon it?
You'll also learn a ton that can be applied to the next thing that you create.
Build stuff you would use
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge proponent of making things for yourself. I almost always think of the stuff that I make for myself as an opportunity to fulfill the needs of someone else.
Don't force it; do it because you're passionate about it.
Make something you want. Is it a game idea that you have? Is it a tool that would help simplify your workflow, or an icon set that you could refer to when creating your next design?
My favorite part of making something that fulfills yourself is that if you want other people to use it, you automatically know your market and can easily relate to your target demographic. (You're one of them!)
Ideas are a dime a dozen, and don't mean anything if you don't execute on them. Find something that you're passionate about and get to work; it's a lot easier to stay focused and chip away at an idea if you love what you do.
Derek Sivers came up with this great concept of ideas simply being a multiplier of the value of your project.
AWFUL IDEA = -1 WEAK IDEA = 1 SO-SO IDEA = 5 GOOD IDEA = 10 GREAT IDEA = 15 BRILLIANT IDEA = 20 NO EXECUTION = $1 WEAK EXECUTION = $1000 SO-SO EXECUTION = $10,000 GOOD EXECUTION = $100,000 GREAT EXECUTION = $1,000,000 BRILLIANT EXECUTION = $10,000,000
Your first draft is bound to be horrrible (yes, that's three r's.) Very rarely do we knock it out of the park on our first go. It's better to put your project out there early and hear what the users say.
Talk about it online as you build it. You'll find out pretty quickly if it's something to continue working on or if there might be a better way to spend your time.
Make up features that could potentially exist. You'll learn if they are actually good ideas to implement if you find that your users are excited that they are on the roadmap. If you get a heavily requested feature, lie to them and say that this was a feature that you planned for and it is on the way.
You can also get great feedback by being honest with yourself. Don't be afraid to always ask, "What can I improve?"
Don't forget the "Why"
To me, this is the most important part of any project, and one that is sometimes easiest to lose sight of.
In the end, it's about what you want to be, not what you want to have. To have something (a finished recording, a business, or millions of dollars) is the means, not the end.
To be something (a good singer, a skilled entrepreneur, or just plain happy) is the real point. Remember, when you sign up to run a marathon, you don't want a taxi to take you to the finish line.
What are some methods that you've employed to get moving on your ideas? Have you found a strategy that really helps you go forward? Let's talk in the comments.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing about how I was able to grow my side project into a full-time endeavor that covers my monthly bills. This will include strategies, numbers, and other challenges that most people are afraid to talk about and others are too intimidated to ask.
Hopefully others that are smarter than me can chime in and help all of us understand how to create and grow a business doing what you love. I encourage you to participate in the discussion by posting your thoughts and questions in the comments below.
- Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson