Turn Your Idea Into Reality
Getting Good Ideas Off the Drawing Board
How many times have you thought of a really fantastic idea? Maybe it was something that would revolutionize the way your office operates. Or perhaps it was a great product that would appeal to millions of people worldwide.
Most of us have been in this situation at least once, and we'll probably have to admit that this great idea never became a reality. Sure, it was creative – and it could be done. But we never acted on it. Why? Why do we think of ideas that we know are good, only to let them sit in the back of our minds – without doing anything about them?
One reason is that putting an idea into practice can seem like a huge amount of work. Even if it's a small idea, most of us see nothing but potential obstacles when we imagine taking action. We assume we've lost the election before we've even started the campaign! Another reason can be fear – fear of moving out of our current, comfortable space.
In this article, we'll detail steps and tips for turning your ideas into reality.
Implementing Your Ideas
OK, so you've got the idea. Now what?
Step One: Define Who Will Be Affected by Your Idea
Imagine that your great idea is a process that will cut your company's month-end reporting time in half. Who will benefit from this? Obviously, everyone who's involved in the current month-end reporting system. But who else? Your company's executives will clearly be interested if timely information is business-critical. And if your new process will save half a day's work for everyone, then your team will have more time for other things – perhaps for taking care of clients?
On a small scale, this may be obvious. On a larger scale, techniques like Stakeholder Analysis can help you think this through thoroughly.
Determining who will be affected by your idea is like defining your "target market." When you're ready to sell your idea, you know you'll have to talk to these people.
Step Two: Think About How It Will Affect Them
Now that you know who will be affected by this idea, briefly think about how it will affect each of them, as an individual. What will the benefits be? What will be the costs? And will the benefits sufficiently outweigh the costs for this to be worth doing?
At this stage, you can do this at a superficial level. In step four, after you've planned what you'll do, you can look at this in more detail.
Step Three: Plan "Backward"
Next, create a plan for how you're going to help these people.
The easiest way to do this is to create a "reverse" plan.
For most people, this may not seem to make sense. You need to plan your steps by moving forward, right? Well, that's one way to do it. But when you start at the beginning, there are many directions you can take to reach your end goal, so it's easy to get lost. However, when you start with your end goal and work backward, things tend to come together much more easily.
Here's an example: one of your internal month-end processes takes 4 days to complete because of the vast amount of data that your colleague Sara has to process when the month is over. This causes a lot of stress as senior management are always agitating to get the figures earlier, and it means that Sara can never take vacation during that period – which is sometimes frustrating for her. You want the month end work to take no more than one day. But how can you make that happen? Think "backward":
- What's your end result? You want the final results available no more than a day after the last activity they report on has been completed.
- Immediately, you realize that if Sara could process data in batches throughout the month, she wouldn't have so much to do after the month end. But this would require other departments to provide figures every week instead of only every month.
- You talk to your colleagues in other departments, and they agree to provide the data every week. Although this does create more work for them, they're happy to make the change as it means they won't have to handle a large batch of queries from a stressed-out Sara at month end.
By working backward like this, you'll develop a plan to take that idea you've imagined and make it a reality. You probably won't get lost along the way, because you started planning in the place where you want to finish.
Make sure you write down your plan – it's very unlikely to become real while it exists only in your imagination. Read Action Plans, Business Requirements
Analysis, and The Straw Man Concept – these have tips on which elements to include in your plan, and how to make sure you don't forget anything.
And make sure you assess the RISKS of your idea. Work on ways to reduce the likelihood that these risks will occur – or reduce their effects if they do occur. This is especially important if you depend on someone else for support to implement your plan. Assess, and then explain, the risks. This will show that you're realistic about your idea.
Step Four: Evaluate Your Proposal
Now that you have a plan in place, you'll need to check it again to make sure that it works as a plan, and that this plan is worth implementing. This may be obvious, however, if it's not, take a look at our Financial Forecasting and
Project Evaluation Bite-Sized Training session – this will explain how to do this thoroughly.
Step Five: Ask for Feedback
Next, discuss your ideas with a few people whom you trust. Does the idea seem reasonable and possible to them? In particular, try it out with some of the people who you think will benefit. Their input will help to improve the idea.
Be careful here. Avoid negative people who like to discourage others. Feedback can be tremendously helpful, but don't let yourself be affected by people who don't have vision. Approach those whose opinions you trust, and stay away from the others.
If you want to set up a business to exploit this idea, be particularly careful who you talk to. On one hand, talking to others will help you improve your idea. This can be very important, and can help you find allies and backers. On the other hand, you don't want to lose control of the idea. Trust is all-important here!
Step Six: Start Taking Action
This is when a lot of people give up. After all, thinking about an idea and planning how to bring it about are easy and fun, and involve little commitment beyond the time put in. The thought of actually doing all of the steps you've carefully planned can be a bit frightening, and hard work can be difficult and boring.
But this is your chance to achieve something great!
You've done everything right so far – you know who will be helped, you know exactly what you need to do to get it done, and you've received some feedback from your peers. So get going. An idea will remain just that – an idea – unless you take action to turn it into a reality.
In most cases, you'll need the support of others – either for permission to implement your plan, or for help to actually make it happen.
When you seek approval to go ahead with your idea, make sure that your "sales pitch" focuses on benefits as well as features. A feature is a fact – for example, "This new cellphone feature is a camera zoom lens offering 10 times magnification." A benefit is the result of the fact, the "What's in it for me?" So, "This lens helps you take great impromptu photos of things that would look tiny on a normal phone camera." With that sentence, your recommendation just became a lot more personal. Show people what they have to gain – ideally in time or money, or both.
And when you try to persuade others to help you implement your idea, focus your requests on your allies, or "friends," to increase the chances that they'll agree. Make sure the work you ask people to do is within their capabilities, and be sure the work reasonably fits into their schedules. Set yourself, and others, periodic short-term goals and deadlines. This will keep the project moving and help ensure that it's completed.
If your idea involves setting up a new business to develop and launch a new product or service, you'll need a lot of help and training to get things going properly. To get this, for example, contact a local enterprise or development agency and see what help and advice they can give, or buy books on starting and running your own business.
Step Seven: Focus on the End Result
Will there be obstacles and unexpected delays when you finally implement your plan? Almost certainly. Things usually happen that we don't plan for, so it's important to be persistent. Keep your end goal in mind. Obstacles don't necessarily mean complete stops – they're just issues that you have to work through. You're probably going to face a few, so expect them.
You can see the power of persistence when you look at one of the world's greatest inventors. Famously, Thomas Edison had over 10,000 failures before he successfully created the light bulb. Through it all, he never lost his vision. If he had, he never would have made it through so many unsuccessful attempts – and we would all be sitting around in the dark.
So above all, don't give up!
Many people have fantastic ideas. But because they fail to act on them, the ideas are never put into practice. By creating a plan, asking for feedback, and taking action, your great idea can become a reality. But don't think it's going to be easy. Look closely at the risks and potential barriers – and create solutions to overcome them. The more you prepare, the higher chance you'll have for success.