On a bitter cold Chicago winter day many years ago, when I didn’t want to get out of my car to get a nice warm Caribou Coffee, I had the idea to add a drive-through for coffee shops. I was young and didn’t have the means, resources or know-how to start a coffee shop with a drive-through, so I didn’t do anything with the idea. Many other coffee shops had the same idea—and acted on it. In this case, I’m glad they did because I use them often!
How many times have you come up with a practical solution to a problem, way to enhance an experience, or other great idea? And of those ideas, how many times did you actually act? The reality is that there are very few original ideas; there are just some people with the know-how and drive to implement them. What camp are you in?
Before I give you some general tips on keeping better tabs on your ideas, let me inspire you with what some people I know did with their ideas:
- Banyan Nation: My friend and MBA Classmate, Mani Vajipey, inspired me with his idea for turning the huge problem of garbage on the streets of India into an innovative solution that would help the environment and the poor. This was a big idea; it would have been easy for Mani to say that it was “too big” or “too hard to implement”. But he didn’t. He found a way. I’m so proud of him.
- Dippy Cups: Taking a chance on an idea, fellow working parent Lisa Ann Savage invented these wonderful condiment cups that really do inspire kids to eat more veggies! They also help limit serving sizes, which teach healthy habits. My kids love these. It should also be noted that Lisa does this “on the side”—she still has a day-job that she loves.
- Mother’s Little Helper: A perfect example of how an idea doesn’t need to be “big business”. My friend Patty makes these adorable snack bags, apron, tooth fairy pillows, ice packs, etc. I think I have more than one of everything. It’s a perfect “small gig” for this stay-at-home mom.
Now that you’ve seen a span of ideas ranging from the small and simple to the large and complex, hopefully you’re inspired to give your ideas a second thought.
Here are some tips on how to better avoid good ideas going to waste–or to someone else’s credit:
- Carry an “idea notebook” at all times. Most good ideas address a problem or enhance an experience—and present themselves at the moment that someone is having that problem or experience. Have you ever said, “if only I had <x> right now?”. If you carry a notebook at all times, you can write down the idea as soon as you think it, minimizing the chance that you will forget it once you move onto the next thing.
- Schedule regular time to review your ideas. Whether it’s once a month, once a quarter, or once a year, schedule time to review your ideas regularly. Upon review, you may decide that some don’t address a need, some just aren’t that good, or some might already be implemented and don’t need another competitor in the game. But you might see one or two that might actually be something—circle those and get feedback on them from trusted friends or advisors.
- Take a chance on an idea or two. You don’t have to tons of money or a graduate degree to test an idea. The trend of the Lean Start-Up model is great—it’s built on the premise that you can test ideas through a Minimally Viable Product (aka the most simple form of your idea possible). There are great books on the subject (see my Recommended Reading page). And remember the examples I shared above—you can decide how big (or small) you want your idea to be.
Parents with Careers started out as just an idea—an idea that I almost sat on. I’m so glad I didn’t, because I’m having a blast making the idea come to life. What idea do you have that can turn into something fun and rewarding for you?