It was early in my free range life when I met this man. It was at some event (I can’t quite remember what) and the sandy haired man in the blue shirt happened to be next to me, so I asked the usual “so what are you working on?” question, and smiled. He shook his head and said “oh I’m working on a new idea that’s really exciting but I can’t tell you about it.”
“Oh!” I said “why not?”
“Well if someone else hears about it they’ll do it for sure. You see it’s an original idea.”
Something about that response seemed odd, but whatever, there were free canapés on offer so I was easily distracted.
Later, while going along the Euston Road in London I noticed some words on the side of the British Library: “An original idea. That’s can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them” (Stephen Fry).
Since then I’ve come to realize why good ol’ Stephen was right (and why people like the guy in the blue shirt are rarely the success stories you read about).
Here’s the thing about original ideas: they don’t exist.
I don’t just mean that if an idea is put out into the world then someone else will do a version of it… I mean that almost no idea is so original that no one else has thought of a version already.
We are sold a myth that finding an original idea is everything, but that’s simply not true. You’ve probably had at least two ideas this year which someone else has (or will) turn into a million dollar business (or at the very least a fun, freedom granting free range business!)
Don’t believe me? Check this:
The story of an idea
Recently, I met someone who has started an online business around food. He started with no advertising or anything much in the way of technical knowledge and has made this work. At first glance he had an original idea.
Except he didn’t.
At least twice over the last few years I have come across this exact idea: once, I gave it to someone who wanted to move into that space, the other time I happened to meet someone who came up with it themselves. They both loved the idea and thought it would be incredibly fun to do… yet had a list of reasons why it wasn’t possible.
They each separately toyed with that idea (which they loved) but never committed to it, (or, as far as I know, anything else).
Here’s the thing: odds are that when they come across this person’s work they will say “darn, he took my original idea!”
No, he didn’t. He had that idea too, but the difference was he did it.
And I mean did it. Not dabbled in it. Not sort of toyed with it but then decided they had to be someone else to really commit. I mean he actually got down and did the damn thing that he thought would be so him to create.
Ideas are cheap. Ideas are everywhere. But in a society that worships the dream of the One Big Idea that will sort everything out, what we aren’t told is that ideas aren’t enough.
You get paid for what you do (not what you think). You get freedom from what you create (not what you discuss as a one-day option).
Four people can have the same idea and two may fail and two may thrive – why? Well this isn’t about being the first mover (the one that takes off isn’t always the one that gets out there first). What matters is the thousand things that come after the idea. Like the way it’s done, the way it is put out there, the thought about who this is for and how those people think, the little touches that come from putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and more.
The idea is just the start. Today you can go from idea to execution faster (and cheaper) than ever before, and what matters is the part where you are actually doing.
We’ve all been there.
Whether we’re dreaming of starting our free range lives, or taking the next step in the lives we have created, everyone knows the feeling of the uncertainty that rears up and stops us in our tracks.
I’m as guilty as anyone of “oh I couldn’t do that” thinking (and I’ve never met anyone who never has those moments). What matters is what you do next.
The fact you may have had those thoughts isn’t a reason to beat yourself up, or stall waiting for ‘perfect confidence’ to hit.
Quite the opposite: it’s a reason to step up and look at what you may have sitting in your back pocket waiting for you to set it free.