Helping Creative People Create

The Fine Art of Refining Ideas

Working Late
Creative Commons License photo credit: Thomas Rockstar

Creative individuals have plenty of ideas. Great big, earth-changing ideas. Unfortunately, not many of them ever evolve into anything fruitful. Why? Because having an idea is only half the battle. The real challenge is refining the idea into something more than a vapor of your imagination.

There is a fine art when it comes to refining an idea. It’s what separates good ideas from great ideas, and will ultimately define your success.

The Life of an Idea

The lifecycle of an idea is a long one. It starts as a rough conception, and then goes through a lengthy refining process that constantly improves the idea. Refining the idea may change a little, or it may change so much that it has evolved into something completely different.

Yes, the success of the idea is mostly in the refining process. Refining an idea is hard work, especially when you don’t know what the outcome will look like. But there are some steadfast rules you can always reference when refining your idea that will greatly help the process.

Make it usable An idea is worthless unless it’s put transformed into something useful. Incredible ideas can turn into stupid ones very quickly if the idea isn’t doable. I’ve had plenty of ideas that would be great… if only there was technology available to make it happen. But this is part of the process of refining ideas. Separating the wheat from the chaff, and only working on the ideas that are viable.

What makes an entrepreneur great isn’t necessarily the greatness of the idea he has. A special entrepreneur is one who can make the idea happen.

Define it. To refine the idea, you have to first define the idea. By creating a definition for your idea, you’ll make a clear focus on what the idea is going to do. How is it going to help? What will it do? How will it do it? These are things that have to be carefully thought about in the early stages.
You may find that you’re constantly changing the definition to your idea, and that is totally normal. You might change the definition many times before the project is done.

Make it sellable. If you’re going to invest time, sweat and money into an idea, it needs to have a business plan. In other words, can it make money?

If you’re a web developer, this is especially important. While some Web 2.0 businesses have found a way to sell the company without a business plan, you’re much better off creating something that can make money from the start. Instead of having a “valuation” and hoping to be purchased quickly, you can have some real dollars in your pocket. If your goal is to someday become acquired by Google or some other Largeco, your idea will be much more attractive if it’s already making money and out of debt.

Money plays a huge part in refining ideas, whether creative types want to believe it or not. The dollar is what gives you the ability to create the idea, and later to sell the idea. Some people don’t want their ideas to have anything to do with money, and that’s totally fine. You should figure out up front if you want to make money from your ideas or not. Most people do ;)

Does it makes sense? After you’ve done the other three steps, I find that if I can explain my idea to my parents or grandparents without them walking away scratching their heads, than the idea has been well defined. What may make sense to you might not make sense to anyone else. If you’re finding that nobody is understanding a) the core concept of the idea or b) how it improves something, you’ve got trouble.

I’ve already referenced a few other posts in this series, but if you’re interested in learning more about the process of refining ideas and completing them, check out my series Ideas From Start to Finish.

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  • http://blog.jpdefillippo.com/ jpdefillippo

    Nice mug ;-)

    • http://lifedev.net Glen Stansberry

      Yeah, I noticed after I posted it that Technorati was on it. Very cool.

      At first I thought you were talking about my picture in the comments ;)

  • http://evolvingworker.com Thibaut Barrère

    > having an idea is only half the battle

    I'd even go further and would say that the idea is only 1/10th of the battle for most topics. The 9 remaining 10th is made of the ability (or inability) to “execute” the idea, to translate it from thoughts to actual creation.

    For larger sites like YouTube, the importance of the execution part is much larger, because it involves huge scalability issues. The original idea is something almost anyone could have had.

    Great points overall! Thanks for the article.

    • http://lifedev.net Glen Stansberry

      You're right Thibaut. There's a lot that goes into the execution.

  • http://evolvingworker.com Thibaut Barrère

    > having an idea is only half the battle

    I'd even go further and would say that the idea is only 1/10th of the battle for most topics. The 9 remaining 10th is made of the ability (or inability) to “execute” the idea, to translate it from thoughts to actual creation.

    For larger sites like YouTube, the importance of the execution part is much larger, because it involves huge scalability issues. The original idea is something almost anyone could have had.

    Great points overall! Thanks for the article.

  • http://lifedev.net Glen Stansberry

    You're right Thibaut. There's a lot that goes into the execution.

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