How to Be a Responsible “Idea Guy”

Are you an idea person? Do you find yourself coming up with new business ideas, branding concepts or process improvements? Does careful project management sometimes stifle your creativity? Do people ever give you that look that implies you ought to focus on the task at hand instead of daydreaming?

If so, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you! And the good news is, you have a special and significant gift. Change is always preceded by thought. As Robin Sharma said, “Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality.”

Some of us are naturally wired to generate ideas easily. But I also believe the ability to ideate is part of all of us. It’s a muscle that grows with stimulation.

If you identify as an idea person – or are looking to better steward the quality and quantity of your ideas – here are some strategies you might consider.

Find a Time and Place to Let Your Ideas Flow

If you are an idea person, your ideas will never stop flowing, but without intentionality, the complexity of daily life (and especially work life) can become an enormous choke point that limits the quantity (and quality) of ideas you can consistently generate. One way to give your ideas an outlet is to have a time and place to let them flow. You might take walks or block a certain time during the week. I’ve discovered my best ideas come when I’m mowing the lawn.

Record Your Ideas

A mental note is worth something but an actual note not only provides your idea with a reference point, it forces you to better articulate the thought itself. You might place a journal on your desk or by your bed. Or an electronic notebook on your phone. It’s amazing how periodically reading through old ideas can help you generate new ones.

Set Idea Goals

In college, I asked a classmate turned musician how he was able to write so many songs. He replied that he had a goal of writing one song per week. Some were crummy but some were good. You might set a goal of one new idea per day. Or a number of them per week or month. Having a goal can also help you evaluate whether your circumstances are enhancing or stifling your creative flow.

Let Your Ideas Go

Practical folks will tell you your ideas aren’t feasible. And many times they are correct! But that’s not the point of generating ideas. Often, you need to get through many impractical ideas in order to find the inspired ones. True idea people generate many more ideas than they could ever act upon. So don’t be afraid to generate a new idea, give it a mental high five and then leave it as you move on.

Pick Your Ideas Carefully

In order to execute your ideas effectively, as your creativity grows, so must your critical thinking. You cannot possibly execute on all your ideas. You must choose the few with the most promise. This means selecting the ones that increase your effectiveness, lead to a new breakthrough, or enable you to “fail forward” if they do not work out.

Share with the Right People

Not everyone appreciates a hearing a spontaneous new idea. But at some point your ideas may benefit from:

  • Fellow Idea People: They help brainstorm and generate new ideas with you.
  • Cheerleaders: They cheer you on for most (if not all) ideas you share with them, even if they are not involved.
  • Critical Thinkers: They help you evaluate the quality of your idea for the purpose of execution.
  • Teammates: They help you execute on the idea.

Don’t confuse one group with another. And if your confidence or self-assurance is shaky, be careful who you share your best ideas with.

Separate Your Ideas from Your Identity

You are not your idea. So if someone trashes your idea, or if your idea doesn’t work, you can simply reply, “Well, it was just an idea” and move on to the next one.

Treat Detail People Like Royalty

It’s a beautiful (and maddening) reality of life that people with opposite strengths need each other in order to be effective. Without detail people to organize ideas into actionable tasks, idea people would be lost. It’s crucial to appreciate the skills and involvement of the people who help you execute. After all, if it weren’t for them, you’d be stuck.

Accept the Responsibility to Lead

Another simple reality of life is that if enough of your ideas are good ones, you will eventually be invited into a formal leadership role. Why? Because vision precedes action – and vision can’t be outsourced. But if your leadership skills don’t match the quality of your ideas, it won’t be a fun experience, either for your or your followers. So invest in growing your leadership skills at the same time as you develop your idea skills.

Victor Hugo once famously stated, “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” I believe it is easier in this day in age for any person to contribute an idea that changes the course of history than ever before. Who is to say the next great idea can’t be yours?

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to download Nathan's free white paper: Nine Ways to Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For.