Sunday, October 17, 2010

If it bleeds ...

In "Kill ideas carefully" I talked about not discarding ideas without thinking about them first. But working out whether an idea is good or not is difficult (at least, I find it difficult). Why is that?

When an idea pops into my head the first thing I see is a spectacular end result. A moment later a lot of "But How!?" questions come raining down and the idea gets lost. (But how do I raise the money?, but how do I market it?, but how do I design it?, etc) I think it's difficult to evaluate an idea because often it's difficult to see it clearly; the "but how" questions compete for precious brain cycles until there's no processing power left to evaluate anything.

What's needed is a "super computer" capable of handling all of these questions without losing sight of the goal. Fortunately we all have one, it's our brain, we just need to help it out with some Visual Thinking.

Recently I found out the most powerful information processing functions of the brain lie in its visual centers. This means we're more likely to understand something when we see a picture of it. The example below shows this idea in action. It compares some typical street directions against a visual equivalent (aka "A Map!") I know which one I prefer!

If we could learn to visualize "problems", we'd have a much better chance of solving them. A book I recently read that does a good job explaining this is "Unfolding The Napkin" by Dan Roam. Dan provides simple frameworks for visualizing problems and presenting solutions. Evaluating ideas is just one of many things you can do with his techniques.

From personal experience, once I can "see" the obstacles they're usually a lot less overwhelming. It's like Arnie said in Predator, "if it bleeds we can kill it", in our case "if we can see it there's a good chance we can understand it". An added bonus is that once problems have been visualized it's easier to engage friends to help with solutions :-)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Getting Started Pt I: Kill ideas carefully

Everything starts with an idea. Starbucks, Apple, Google, Facebook and countless other success stories were, at some point, just an idea. The reason they succeeded is that someone did something about them. Unfortunately most of us kill our ideas too quickly and for reasons that probably aren't that great.

In the past I'd get an idea, sometimes I might have even marveled at how great it was :-) and then, suddenly, with alarming speed, I'd come up with a truck load of reasons why it wouldn't work and I'd bury it. The reasons varied but it boiled down to this feeling of not being qualified to move forward. e.g. didn't have the skills, capital, time, experience, etc etc to "qualify" to take the next step.

And then one day it dawned on me that if someone else asked me to try and move a similar idea forward, perhaps as part of a work or school project, I'd almost certainly give it a shot. Qualified or not I would start moving! How crazy is that?! Throw in some deadlines and a hard to please client and I'm pretty sure I'd be working overtime to do my best. What changed? Why is it easier to act when it's someone else's idea?

In "Linchpin", Godin talks about a small part of our brain (the Amygdala, aka the lizard brain) that is basically obsessed with avoiding failure along with a lot of our other biggest fears. The bottom line is that most of us learn at a young age that failing is one of the worst things that can happen to us. In reality, it's probably not as bad as we think, but good luck trying to convince your Amygdala of that.

Is there a solution? What worked for me was convincing my lizard brain that not doing anything equals massive failure and I quickly noticed myself getting agitated every time I killed an idea without thinking about it first. Today, I give each idea serious consideration before I start wielding the axe. I still kill a lot of ideas, but I kill them carefully, who knows maybe the next one is going to be that winner I'm looking for :-)

Monday, October 11, 2010

"Nice to meet you"

Before I dive into the reasons I started this blog, how about a quick introduction. I'm Raj *Virtual Handshake*: Husband, Photographer, Software Engineer and aspiring African Drummer.

I don't own my own company. I haven't inspired the masses. I haven't solved any significant social or economic problems. But I would like to! ;-)

A couple of years ago a friend lent me a book that basically said "Anything's Possible". I had a lot of questions and apparently the answers were in other books. So I started reading ... a lot!

I ended up setting myself a goal of reading 144 Great Books in 10 years. At the time of this post I'm at book #14 and I've decided to give this "Anything's Possible" thing a shot. I have ideas, a bit of knowledge to make them happen and I'd like to pass on what I'm learning. I still have plenty of questions and I figured this blog would be a great way to get some answers. In his amazing book "Linchpin", Seth Godin makes an inspiring point, that we need to work out what we love to do, then we need to do it and finally we need to share the results with others. He describes this as "Shipping Your Art" and this is what I intend to do :-)

My goal is that some day soon I'll be writing about my successes, in the hope that others will be inspired to start their own journey.

Here goes!