The Risks of “Idea Addiction”

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” – Carl Sagan

Are you addicted to ideas?

I am. I admit it. I love the creative process. No, it’s not just that I love it. It’s that I can’t escape it. Seriously.

I carry an idea pad in my coat pocket in winter. In summer, no napkin within 20 feet is safe. I steal Post-its. At home, I fill one notebook after another.

I have files on my computer more than 700 pages long, filled with capsules of ideas. For novels. For New Yorker cartoons. For screenplays. For non-fiction books and business books.

Even the folder that keeps my “future Copywriter’s Roundtable” ideas, right now, holds 2,238 items. Many that I’ve never had a chance to glance at a second time.

In brainstorming meetings, I’m the guy you can’t shut up. (Though now I know to ask more questions than to force answers on people.)

Early in my career, I wrote two- to three-page memos filled with nothing but one bulleted idea after another. “Here’s a sales promotion we could do…” or “This is a possible new product…” and “We should set up this protocol to speed up the design process…”

Ad infinitum.

I don’t know if I impressed anybody else doing that, but I certainly must have impressed myself. Because I kept on doing it. Until I had a revelation: Ideas without execution aren’t worth much of anything at all.

And that’s the point I was just reminded of recently, after stumbling across the website for the Behance Group, a company that develops “organization tools” for creative types in every industry.

“Ideas,” one of their senior execs had just explained to a new intern, “are our greatest cost. If anything, we have too MANY ideas.”

Crushing news for the intern, who was bummed by not seeing many of her ideas light the rest of the company on fire. But just too true. Get engaged in anything, and the ideas will flow. What really tests your merits, though, is the ability to isolate the best of those ideas and actually make them happen.

Behance has a process for moving ideas from ether to reality. They call it the “action method.”

It’s pretty simple.

First, at the end of every creative meeting, you need to decide which ideas are “action-worthy” and which are solid “backburner” projects. Fill up the backburner shelf, make a list, and save it somewhere. Now you’re ready to focus.

Second, you take the action-worthy ideas and – as a group – clarify and assign every single, relevant “action step” you can think of. Schedules, follow-up meetings, research, design. It all goes here. Culpability is the key. Get names and deadlines on paper.

Third and last, you don’t leave the room without creating or identifying your “reference materials.” That is, you make a list, as a group, of what you’ll need to make a project happen. Then you identify where it will come from. Be thorough when you make this list. Don’t let a worthy project get derailed because you don’t have the materials you need to make it happen.

Do these three things, and you’ll be a lot more successful than any pure, otherwise-inert idea-generator could ever be.

[Ed Note: John Forde, a published writer and a direct-mail copywriter since 1992, is a featured expert in The Magic Button, ETR’s step-by-step guide to starting a profitable Internet business. Applying John’s proven techniques for writing promotional copy will make every customer contact an opportunity for a sale, whether it’s your company’s homepage, sales letters, emails, ads, and even editorial content.

As John reminded you today, good ideas aren’t worth a penny if you don’t put them into action. Learn how to apply this lesson to your business with Michael Masterson’s Wall Street Journal best-seller, Ready, Fire, Aim: Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat . Click here to get your copy.

Sign up for John’s free weekly e-zine, The Copywriter’s Roundtable.]

John Forde's 15-year career as a top copywriter started as an understudy of Bill Bonner and Michael Masterson. Since then, John has written countless winning controls, has generated well over $30 million in sales, and has successfully launched dozens of products. He's also worked three years as a financial journalist and has written books on wealth building and health, as well as more than 250 articles on copywriting for his popular ezine, The Copywriter's Roundtable. John has taught copywriting in private seminars and conferences in Paris, London, Bonn, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Baltimore, and Warsaw. He currently lives and works from Paris, France.