How To Decide Which Ideas To Pursue

“If you have one good idea, people will lend you twenty.” — Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

There’s always another idea.

Another thing to pursue, explore, or create. It’s a gift…and a curse.

Because with a constant flow of ideas that interest us and limited time to explore them, how do we choose which to pursue?

When we choose poorly, we drown in half-finished projects, wasted time, inefficiency, and regrets.

But we can tilt the odds of choosing the right ideas to pursue in our favor if we follow a few guidelines.

Choose ideas that are unique. And familiar.

Ideas need to be unique if we want people to consume them.

But completely original ideas (if there is such a thing) often struggle to gain traction with others who don’t have a reference point for them.

So our best chance at success often comes from ideas that offer an original spin on a familiar concept.

Take Chobani yogurt for example.

It was unique in that it was Greek yogurt —something most Americans weren’t eating at the time. But it was also familiar to those same consumers in that it was still yogurt meant to be consumed in a familiar way.

It was an original spin on a familiar concept.

Star Wars is another example.

The George Lucas masterpiece was certainly unique — nothing like it had been seen before — but it was rooted in familiar archetypes of Western films and pulp stories like Flash Gordon.

Ideas that feature unique twists on the familiar tend to be worth exploring.

Choose ideas that will succeed…even if they fail.

There’s no guarantee an idea will succeed.

But some ideas are guaranteed to create value for us even in failure.

Ideas that allow us to acquire skills, experience, and build assets regardless of their ultimate success, are ones worth pursuing.

For example, starting a blog doesn’t guarantee we’ll find an audience for that blog. But, writing every day does guarantee our writing will improve.

While the blog’s success isn’t guaranteed, there’s an associated skill development that is. It’s an idea that may not succeed, but can’t completely fail either.

Just because an idea is good, doesn’t mean it’s good for us.

A (relatively) smart, (relatively) hard working person who’s willing to learn can turn most ideas into success.

But that doesn’t mean every idea we have is worth pursuing.

We must avoid the trap of pursuing an idea solely because we recognize the opportunity in it.

Creating a newsletter about 401k management might be a great idea, but unless I have a passionate interest in 401k management (and I don’t), that’s not an idea I should pursue.

Our time and effort is limited so we must choose carefully how to spend it. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we need to do it.

We can be good at a lot of things, but we can only be great at that which aligns with our true interests.

Choose ideas based on your excitement for the work, not just the result.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn money, get attention, or change the world.

But potential results shouldn’t dictate the ideas we pursue.

The majority of time we spend on an idea will be spent on the work, so we need to be more drawn to that than the results.

Once upon a time I wanted to become a screenwriter.

I had some talent for it and got some good early feedback, but struggled to force myself to write.

I came to realize I was more excited by the results of a potential screenwriting career — not having a 9-to-5 job, doing creative work, etc. — than the actual work.

Meanwhile, on the side I got into social media, blogging, and digital marketing (speaking of which, if you need some help with those things let’s talk).

I found that work much easier because I was excited by the actual work and not just the results that could come from it.

The majority of time we spend on an idea is spent on the work that idea requires and not on the results it generates. That’s worth keeping in mind when we choose which ideas to pursue.

Choose ideas you can explain.

Great ideas are simple ideas.

If wecan’t explain an idea to others in a simple way, then it’s probably not a great idea.

This doesn’t mean we need to abandon it, but we do need to give it more thought.

Because when we can’t explain an idea in simple terms, it means our idea isn’t fully formed.

The process of learning to be able to explain an idea to others — even people who aren’t experts in our field —forces us to analyze the idea and determine whether it’s worth our time.

If we can’t ever explain it clearly, then we know to move on.

But if we get to a point where we can explain it in simple terms, it means we have a vision for it that can guide its development and increase its chances of success.