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Work Smart

How To Put Your Most Creative Ideas Into Action

The mind of an entrepreneur is sometimes an echo chamber. Here's how to find out if your great idea is great in reality.

How To Put Your Most Creative Ideas Into Action
[Photo: Flickr user Christoph Hrdinka]

You have a powerful brain. It comes up with all sorts of ideas—some of them outlandish, others brilliant, even transformational. Sometimes creative thinking is in an end in itself. Other times it isn't. For entrepreneurs especially, it's easy to get lost in the thinking and forget about the doing.

This passage from thought to action doesn't just turn your ideas into practical realities. It also helps create a feedback loop, spurring us on to further creative ideas. Here’s a process you can follow to turn creative thought into creative action.

1. Know Where You're Going

One of the first ways to focus your creative energies is to identify the problem: What's broken that needs fixing?

Write down the main issue and ideal outcome you want to achieve. Is it a physical thing? An experience? A feeling? Whatever it is, jot it down on paper or your screen of choice. No matter how abstract sounding your goal, that's the destination you're now traveling toward.

Then imagine you've already reached it. Envision that feeling of achievement and let it settle into your body. Sure, you're indulging in a bit of a premature fantasy, but that's the point: Coming to understand and appreciate exactly what you're trying to reach is the first step toward actually reaching it.

2. Plot A Course

Now block out a rough strategy. What needs to happen before the next thing can happen? Let yourself get a little crazy with it. Which paths aren’t obvious? It's okay if your map has some forking roads—follow each of them so you know where they'll go. You'll choose your route later.

If you'll need help to put your ideas into action, who can help you? Are there skills or resources you already possess that can help you execute your vision? It’s easy to get blocked here. Realizing that you lack certain expertise can feel like hitting a dead-end, but it doesn't have to. Anytime you feel hung up, take a break. Stay focused on your challenge, but try to approach it from different angles. Above all, give yourself the time it takes to see them.

3. Build A Prototype

Now stop planning and get something done. It doesn’t have to be final—it doesn't even have to be good—but it should at least be worthy of sharing with those you respect. Do your best to get through this stage on your own. It’s your idea. You need to prove it’s possible and that response is promising before you push too far. Sloppy prototyping is okay as long as it conveys where you're going.

4. Let Others Take A Look

Maybe it’s your target customers, your best friends, your family members. Get your prototype out there and ask for honest feedback. This is often where you’ll discover the potential roadblocks to getting a finished version completed, and what needs to be changed.

Don’t let negative criticism derail your process, but listen carefully. If multiple people voice the same concerns, they're probably worth addressing in some way or another—and now, as opposed to later. Sometimes, the phrase, "Go back to the drawing board," really means you’re evolving and finding out what works; your final output will be better because of it.

5. Dig Into The Details

Time to refine and get the details right. Move from first draft closer to final edit. Keep it simple but beautiful. Dig up that paper or note on your phone where you first jotted down your goal. Stay focused on that, and leave by the wayside any ambitious side features you want to build someday. Now's not the time for that.

If you need to bring in help in order to get your product finalized, make sure they’re people you respect and trust who share your enthusiasm. Partners should contribute in ways you can’t. If you take your work seriously, your team will too. But don’t expect others to be as excited about your idea as you are. It's okay if they aren't. Still, if you involve them early enough, they may stick along for the ride.

6. Set It Free

After you've refined your drafts and prototypes, it’s time to get it out to the world. Looking back, I've tended to rush this part in order to get things out very quickly. It’s wiser to come up with a plan first: How will you release your work? Do you have a way to build hype and anticipation? What tools and channels will you use to share it? Who do you want to see it and use it or interact with it?

Nail down your rollout strategy and then execute. If that plan starts to look too complicated, you should probably simplify.

Getting your creative idea out to the world as something tangible or experiential is ultimately proof-positive of your creativity. Otherwise, you're an echo chamber for your own ideas. Set your projects free, and see how they change when others take them in. Once they’re out there in the world, you’ll come up with ways to build on your work or do something new altogether.

Ethan Lipsitz is CEO and cofounder of Apliiq, a creative platform that is redefining the custom T-shirt. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.

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