In 2017, I joined Entrepreneurs Organization. For the first time in business, I felt surrounded by people like me. Founders who were hungry for growth, seeking an edge, and constantly pushing to improve themselves and their organizations. The ideas, inspiration, experience shares, and ways to refine my business were endless.
I was a sponge. I brought it all back to our team. I was confident these new insights would refine our business and rally our people.
I was wrong.
I expected excitement. Instead, I was met with apprehension. My inspiration and energy left them overwhelmed and exhausted. They were drinking from a firehose.
As a leader, my role is to provide a filter and focus. I can’t share everything I observe nor share every insight I perceive as valuable. It requires refinement, patience, and persistence.
Most entrepreneurs I’ve met are also idea people. Identifying opportunity and taking action is what go us into this in the first place. It’s both our gift and our downfall. It unlocks new innovation, but unchecked can cause us to spin our wheels.
- We run the risk of creating infinite distractions.
- We pull attention with wavering priorities.
- The bottomless ideas burn others people out.
Ideas are important but they can limit our potential.
Cultivating ideas is as much about creativity as it is about self restraint. Discipline around creating, eliminating, and refining ideas can fuel creativity, reduce distractions, and spark innovation.
Identifying these tendencies in myself, I’ve worked to refine the discipline around ideation and creativity. The more I study and dissect ideas, the more patterns I’ve noticed. Learning, researching, and understanding these patterns has unlocked even more creativity. It also provides the added benefit of processing ideas more quickly.
I have more ideas than ever, but the discipline allows me to organize, prioritize, and refine them. These are some dichotomies I use when refining an idea:
(I’ve underlined the ‘happy path’ based on my preferences. Knowing this about myself creates a filter through which I can determine which ideas to prioritize. Yours will vary.)
- Specialist vs Generalist
- Down Market vs Up market
- Low-touch vs High-touch
- Revenue-side vs Cost-side
- Oxygen vs Candy
- Product vs Service
- Operating Expense vs Capital Expense
If an idea still seems interesting, I break it down further:
- Market (What’s the industry, market size, and shape? Current players?)
- Potential (What’s the long-game or likelihood of success?)
- Category (Where does this live in people’s minds?)
- Purpose (Impact, attention, profit?)
- Personal-alignment (In my sweet spot? Technology, business, social-impact?)
There are no perfect ideas. No amount of thought or planning can guarantee success. Even the most seasoned founders or highest paid consultant are still just making bets. Fortunately, there are know variables that can reduce risk and increase our odds.
If you’re interested in mental models and ideation, these are some excellent resources:
- The Knowledge Project (Podcast)
- My First Million (Podcast)
- Play Bigger (Book)
- The Creative Curve (Book)
- Super Thinking (Book)
- Smartcuts (Book)
PS. Ideas aren’t scarce. When shared, they evolve, grow, and multiply. Hoarding them is the fastest path to insignificance, for the idea and probably ourselves. What idea are you holding onto? I’d love to hear about it. (reply to this email)
Morgan J Lopes
Acknowledgements and gratitude for these learnings. A special thanks to…
- Josh, for constantly pushing back on my ideas. We see the world differently, but your perspective makes me better.
- Jason, for you for modeling a disciplined, curious mind and providing consistent objectivity.
- Matthew, for your willingness to kick around ideas and update our thinking. Even if we never find the answer, the journey continues to be worth the effort.
- Tim, for trusting me enough to tinker together.
My Top 10 Lessons for Founders
This post is part of my email series. It’s a collection of the Top 10 Lessons I’ve learned as a founder. By a founder, for founders. Signup for free to access all 10 lessons.