Get out of “Idea Debt.” Get it Done.

Get ideas done


When we study the work of great inventors and innovators, we find that there are plenty people who got things egregiously wrong in their first try. If you put an idea out there, others can contribute to fixing it — or you can fix it if you try new approaches.

Many ideas get better as people use them, over time. Yet so many of us spend more time trying to find the perfect idea.

Hit those slopes, avoid “Idea Debt”

Artist Kazu Kibuishi# says we create “Idea Debt” when we spend years dreaming about an awesome thing we'll do—when we have enough time (or money, or of the right people, etc.) “The truth is, no matter what you do, it will never be as great as it is in your mind, and so you’re really setting yourself up for failure.”

That's because it's much easier to develop good taste than it is to create great products from it. Kibuishi enjoys snowboarding. He noticed that some people took a long time to decide whether to hit the slopes. As they waited they got cold… and their skill didn't get any better.

The first draft of anything is far from perfect. It's the doing that gets it better. 

To stand out, stand up

Anyone who's ever accomplished something remarkable has spent less time wrestling with the idea, and more trying to make something with it. “You'll hit gold more often if you simply try out a lot of things,” says Ira Glass, host and producer of This American Life.

To do something that stands out we should build a tremendous body of work.

Making something that is interesting comes with a hard process. The problem, says Glass, is that nobody tells us when we're getting started — there is a gap between our taste and our creations.

It's far easier to see in our mind's eye what something should look like, than it is building the skill to make it. How we think about ideas drives what we do with them.

Ideas are networks

Darwin discovered there was something peculiar in the crowded waters of a reef set in a desolate habitat in the Indian Ocean. He noted the observation he made about the coral reef, “so many different life forms, occupying such a vast array of ecological niches, inhabiting waters that were otherwise nutrient poor.”

That was the hint that would shape his larger theory about the innovative persistence of life years later. Great ideas fade into view over long periods of time.

Darwin had the full theory of natural selection brewing in his mind for many months before he had his alleged epiphany while reading Malthus in October of 1838. Stephen Johnson says an idea is thus not a single thing, it's “a network.” 

We combine it with other observations we made, add insights from the people who came before us… and find collaborators to expand and extend our own experience.

Be a patient teacher and an aggressive learner

Enrico Fermi was an Italian physicist at a time when physics wasn't held in high esteem in Italy. The 1938 Nobel Prize winner earned his leadership status through work.

Fermi was versed in both theory and an experimental physics — publishing the results of his thinking, learning new languages to access and join the European scientific community, and supporting the discipline at home got him noticed. 

His consistent displays of competence, his support of peer scientists across Europe, his sharp intelligence and passion for physics, and some sheer luck, catapulted him from fairly humble origins to the world's stage.

The shortest path to getting noticed is to notice first. Building trust with opinion leaders in any community is a critical stepping stone in getting people to adopt an idea. We need to be patient teachers… and aggressive learners, at the same time.

Perfect is the enemy of done

Author Richard Bach says, “Everything you see and touch was once an invisible idea until someone chose to bring it into being. Any powerful ideas is absolutely fascinating and absolutely useless until we choose to use it.” 

To get an idea done, we often need to get past our sense of self.

What it takes to make an idea happen doesn't challenge only existing limiting frames in generalit challenges us in the process. Which is why we become conflicted about our sanity and rife with self-doubt. Learning how to share an idea is an important step.

We all think our ideas are good. Many of them are. Adoption is the validation that the idea was good. If we get past the need to be perfect—both in mindset and personal culture (or self-imposed peer pressure)—we can get to done.

Our actions change our reality. 


I was that creative who loved all her ideas. My mother still smiles to this day when we reminisce. “Which drawing (or poem) do you like best?” I would ask. She'd pause what she was doing and take time to consider, then pick one.

“What's wrong with the other?” I'd say quickly.

A better question would have been, “What makes it your favorite?” (market research!) because I would have learned much more.

With time, we learn the right actions.