Obsessing over Lost Ideas

Obsessing over Lost Ideas

I tend to have a lot of ideas, which is a kind way of saying that I’m easily distracted. The way I control this impulse is by recognizing that most ideas aren’t worth much without the solid execution to bring them into reality. So when I talk to someone about an idea, I will assess our ability to work together with a set of rules like this:

  • Do we have the skills?
  • Do we have the time?
  • Do we have the resources?
  • Do we have the chemistry?
  • Do we really have the motivation?

It’s amazing how many ideas don’t make the cut, if you’re being truly honest. In a lot of cases, I’ll do something because I’m actually not sure…in the process of doing, I’ll find out. Of course, I have to disclose this fully to any involved parties, because otherwise the second battery of tests will fail:

  • Are we maintaining momentum?
  • Are we setting our expectations correctly?
  • Was our initial assessment accurate?
  • Do we keep going?

Not many personal projects make it past the second battery either, at least in my limited experience. That’s why if you ever find someone to team up with that can repeatedly pass this test, you should make every effort to work together. You have found something magical.

But I digress. I just realized that though I can keep my distractions from turning into failed projects, I am absolutely obsessive about documenting them. Witness this blog. And this obsession is actually driven by fear.

I have a terrible memory, or so I think. I remember being commanded to memorize and repeat phrases on the spot in French class, and not being able to do it to great personal embarassment. I also hate losing information, or feeling stuck because I am lacking some critical piece of information that could solve some workplace conundrum. And it’s probably related overall to a fear of not being competent. So I work really hard at being competent, and I suppose I have succeeded in certain respects. But the fear is still very much there, lurking deep in the shadows.

How does this relate to the documenting of every idea that I have? Well, I’m not really sure. It may be that for all the noise I make about ideas being worthless by themselves, it happens to be one of the things that I truly enjoy and am actually good at. So the upshot is: I’m really good at doing something that I know is worthless without execution behind it. Sheesh…I didn’t see that coming! By documenting them, perhaps I am attempting to generate some kind of value from them. At least when they’re written down, other people can benefit, and therefore attribute some kind of value to me.

So facing up to myself, I’m recognize I am being silly. Let me work this out:

  • First of all, if I’m so good at generating new ideas, then I will never lack for them. Ever. So starting now, I’m going to stop obsessing about remembering them (which I suck at anyway) and focus on generating new ones. That’s not to say that I’ll stop blogging them; I will just not run to the computer to write them down and get caught up in it every time a thought crosses my mind. This should have an effect on my personal productivity.

  • Secondly, I should worry about the ideas that do make it past the two filters, because those are the ones that matter in terms of executability. And that means the creation of tangible, life-sustaining assets.

  • Thirdly, my core business might actually be packaging ideas for consumption. Content creation, in other words. I have a nice skill set for doing that: design, development, writing and all that related stuff. It’s not experience design or graphic design, or storytelling/journalism in itself.

  • Fourthly, the ability to generate and package ideas very cheaply (in terms of mental energy) is a competitive advantage, in some business circles. Identifying what businesses those are will be an interesting challenge.


p>I’m pretty confident that everyone has some kind of trait like this; it’s just difficult to see it from your own perspective. For some reason taking showers seems to trigger these insights, and since I’ve been taking a lot of showers lately as I try this polyphasic sleep schedule out, I guess it’s my own darn fault. :-)


  1. Ian 18 years ago

    I definitely know how you feel. I often feel overwhelmed by my own ideas and I’m currently working on my own ways to filter them.

    BTW: Keep us posted on the polyphasic sleep thing. I’ve wanted to try it for a while but my current situation is prohibitive.

  2. Sam Browning 18 years ago

    The shower thing may be because you have lots of water on and around your head, water bringing oxygen, meaning you’re more likely to have good ideas and such. I believe artists, scientists, and maybe war people used to swim in a pool or something like it in order to get good ideas or make a breakthrough in something.

    Of course, I don’t recall it 100%, but it’s something along those lines. :P

  3. josh 18 years ago

    I’m in the same boat – too many ideas to the point of exhaustion!  I think it’s just because there’s so much creative stuff going on across the Internet and you read and see so many (too many!) things that spark ideas and inspiration.

  4. Phreadde 18 years ago

    Ideas are great if they also fulfill two criteria

    Will they make the world a better place?

    Will they do this now, better than any other ideas in my in-tray?