March 23, 2018

Why Ideas Die


SoDA is thrilled to welcome AJ Meyer as a faculty leader at 2018 SoDA Academy. AJ is the Co-Founder of GoKart, a digital innovation company and restless product incubator with offices in Minneapolis and Washington D.C.

AJ will lead an interdisciplinary session on Product Design and Innovation on Tuesday, April 10th. In this post, he shares some simple practices to do more than just think about ideas. 

An idea is nothing more than a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action. (Just ask Google.) Or, metaphysically speaking, ideas are mental representational images of objects or abstract concepts.

And yet, more often than not, we grasp and protect our ideas so tightly — especially if we believe they might lead to financial gain, or an amazing new business opportunity. Ideas are certainly at the root of many billion-dollar products and companies, but on their own, they aren’t worth much.

Look at where ideas come from in the first place. They don’t suddenly arise out of nowhere. Ideas form in the brain based entirely on the experience of the person “coming up with” said ideas. Because so many people have shared histories and experiences, it’s no surprise that the same basic idea can develop in multiple brains at the same time. That’s why speed-to-market is incredibly important in the startup world. People aren’t waiting around for the idea; it’s the best expression of the idea that wins.

Getting too attached to your idea is a dangerous practice. It places tremendous value on what’s merely a thought. It’s why people get so frustrated when they see a product or an app or a platform that’s the actual manifestation of an idea that may have emerged in their mind at some point. “Look at that! I had the same idea three years ago! I could have been a millionaire!” Yeah, but you didn’t do anything with it — nor did the hundreds or even thousands of others who had some version of that same idea, perhaps three-and-a-half years ago. The difference is most of those people (like you, probably) didn’t tell anyone about their idea, didn’t write it down, and certainly didn’t take action to make it tangible.

The easiest way to kill your ideas is to keep them secret. If you care even a little bit about an idea, it’s crucial that you share it and listen to what you hear in response. Great opportunities never see the light of day because the ideas behind them are kept locked away for fear of being “stolen.” Rest assured, while you’re sitting on your brilliant concept, waiting for some perfect moment to arise secure, someone else is off and running with the same idea. And they’re not doing it alone.

Too often we forget that when you create a conversation around an idea, you begin to breathe life into an abstract concept. Something magical happens. Because all of us are smarter than one of us, your idea begins to shift and improve. You start to enroll others in your idea. Soon, you have a team of people who want to be part of making something great.

Don’t stop there. Keep going. Put together a plan of action that will advance your idea. Now you can officially call yourself an entrepreneur.

Of course, there are countless books and articles written about what happens next, just like there are hundreds of companies that exist to help you and your team go faster (and further), but we’ll leave those conversations for another day. For now, embrace these simple practices and you’ll be surprised how far they can take you:

  • Get in the habit of writing down ALL of your ideas. Documenting everything reveals patterns. Within the patterns is where you’ll find the biggest opportunities.
  • Be brutally honest about your ideas and where they actually came from. It’s dangerous and sometimes downright irresponsible to believe that you and you alone are the source of your ideas.
  • Talk to other people about your ideas and listen carefully to what they tell you. After several conversations, the good stuff will make itself known.
  • Enroll others in your idea and incorporate their contributions. All of us are smarter than one of us.
  • Get out of your own way. Set your ego aside and be open to the feedback that will enhance your idea.
  • Build a team, make a plan, and take action. It’s the only way an idea becomes a reality


Article re-published, with permission, from a piece that originally appeared on Lab Notes from GoKart. 


AJ Meyer

Co-Founder, GoKart

The SoDA Academy will be held at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York on April 9-10, 2018. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to learn from and alongside some of the best and brightest in the industry. Request an invite today.