Are You Afraid of Good Ideas?

In this excerpt from his new book Poke the Box, author Seth Godin discusses people who, because of fear, save up ideas without acting on them.

Poke the BoxAre you one of those people?

One of the people with too many good ideas? The folks who have notebooks filled with notions, or daydreams filled with the future?

You've certainly met these people. They're too busy taking notes to get anything done, too busy inventing to actually instigate.

To stop this process, one needs to do only two things:

Start. And then...

Ship.

Can't do the second if you don't do the first.

Paul is one of those people. And he carries the ideas around like a bag of rocks, insulation against criticism, protection from blame. "Hey, can't you see I've got this big notebook full of ideas? Of course you can't hold me responsible for accomplishing anything, I've been too busy thinking up the next thing.... If only those jerks on the Group W bench would listen to me, everything would be fine."

The problem, I think, has nothing to do with the jerks he works for, and everything to do with a fear of starting. His incessant brainstorming also gives him the pleasure of having a great excuse at the same time he's avoiding the short-term pain of failure.

Fear on the left, fear on the right

Some of us hesitate when we should be starting instead. We hold back, promise to do more research, wait for a better moment, seek out a kinder audience.

This habit is incredibly common. It eats up our genius and destroys our ability to make the contribution we're quite capable of making. Call it hypogo--trapped into not enough starting.

Surprisingly, the flip side is also true.

Some people deal with the fear and hide out by doing something else. They overstart, constantly dreaming up the next big thing, bigger than big. They might start a zeppelin transit company on Monday, and then drop it for a Stirling engine patent application on Wednesday, and perhaps, if that doesn't take off in just a day or two, aim for a business focused on home delivery of notary services by the end of the week.

Fitzgerald nailed it when he described Jay Gatsby's attitude: "What would be the use of doing great things if I could have a better time telling her what I was going to do?" It's easy to fall so in love with the idea of starting that we never actually start.

The person who constantly asks questions, interrupts, takes endless notes, and is always in your face isn't just annoying--she's self-sabotaging, a form of hiding. This hypergo mindset is just as safe as the more prevalent kind of under-shipping, because if you're the kind of person who's always dreaming and riffing, of course you can't be held responsible for your work. First, because you're crazy, and second, because you're too busy doing the next thing to be held responsible for the last one.

It's not good to be too fat or too thin. Not good to have blood pressure that's too high or too low. It's only in the center, where we resonate with the market and get it right, that we can produce effectively.

For every person I know who has the hypergo mindset, I know ninety-nine who could contribute by starting more than they do, but don't. If you're not making a difference, it's almost certainly because you're afraid. And that fear might manifest itself at either end of the spectrum.

Excerpted from Poke the Box, by Seth Godin. Reprinted by permission from the Domino Project.