How To Figure Out If Your Idea Is Worth Spending Time On

Five questions to ask about your latest idea.

The most valuable creative skill isn’t the ability to generate new ideas — it’s knowing which ones to pursue.

Because if you choose poorly, you’ll drown in half-finished projects, wasted time, inefficiency, and regret.

Here are five questions you can use to figure out which ideas are worth pursuing and which to avoid…

  1. Is your idea unique…and familiar?

A unique idea is powerful.

But truly original ideas — if there is such a thing — often struggle to gain traction with people who don’t have any reference point for them.

As Derek Thompson explains in his excellent book Hit Makers, the ideas that most often catch on are ones 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 didn’t eat 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.

  1. Will your idea succeed even if it fails?

Most ideas fail, but some will still create value for you even in failure.

An idea that allows you to acquire skills, experience, and build assets regardless of its ultimate success, is worth investing in.

For example, there’s no guarantee that starting a blog will ultimately get you an audience or make you any money. But, if starting a blog ensures that you write every day, it does guarantee your writing will improve and that’s valuable.

Even in failure, there’s an associated skill development that ensures starting a blog can be successful for you even if it fails by traditional measures.

Look for ideas that come with similar guarantees.

  1. Is your idea good for you, or is it just good?

A smart, hard-working person who’s willing to learn can turn almost any idea into a success.

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

Avoid the trap of acting on an idea solely because you recognize the opportunity in it.

Launching a newsletter about 401k management might be a great idea, but unless you have a passionate interest and expertise in 401k management, it’s probably not a great idea for you.

Your time and effort is limited so you must choose carefully how to spend it.

Remember: Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you MUST do it.

You can be good at a lot of things, but you’ll only be great at that which aligns with your interests.

  1. Are you excited to do the work the idea requires or just the potential result?

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

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

The vast majority of time you spend on an idea will be spent doing the work, so you need to be more drawn to that than the outcome.

Once upon a time I wanted to become a screenwriter.

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

I came to realize I was more excited by the potential results of a 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.

That effort— and success — came much easier because I was excited by the actual work and not just the results that might come from it.

When considering which ideas to pursue always chase the work that excites you most and not the hypothetical results that may come from it.

  1. Is your idea easy to explain?

Great ideas are simple ideas.

If you can’t explain your idea to others in a way that’s easy for them to understand, then it’s probably not a great idea.

This doesn’t mean you need to abandon it, but you do need to give it more thought because if you can’t explain it, then your idea isn’t fully formed.

The process of learning how to explain your idea to others — even people who aren’t experts in your field — forces you to analyze the idea in a deep way and determine whether it’s worth your time.

If you can’t ever explain it clearly, then you 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.