Why your mind kills your best ideas

Why your mind kills your best ideas
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You're staring at your screen, trying to come up with a good idea. You've been dreaming of starting your own company or doing something of your own for a long time, but every idea you come up with is either too hard, has been done before, or requires something you don't have - a skill, a partner, funding.
You feel stuck, frustrated, and unmotivated. You know that a good idea forms basis of a successful business but try as you might you can't find one.
Here's the real problem. You have two parts in your mind that are constantly fighting one another.
One part is the artist. The artist generates ideas all the time - in the shower, while driving, while binging a show on Netflix, even at night when you're dreaming. The artist believes in the power of magic, in wishing things into being, and in the perfection of an imagined world. He doesn't care that the idea is financially impossible, that it breaks that second law of thermodynamics or that it's been done a thousand times before. The artist says yes to everything.
The other part is the judge. The judge's job is to prevent you from following through on foolish ideas, to keep you safe from failure, from embarassement and from exposure to criticism. People who have an especially well developed judge, tend to avoid doing anything that might be risky or seem ridiculous to their friends or family. In particular, the judge thinks the artist is a well meaning and childish idiot and shuts down every creative idea he comes up with. The judge says no to everything.
The conversation between the artist and the judge often goes something like this:
Artist: Hey, I just had this amazing idea! Wouldn't it be really cool if we could create a kind of transparent paper that you could write your journal notes on and then pin it up on your whiteboard and then have all that scanned and analyzed with AI so it would show you the most important notes relevant to the project you're working on?
Judge: What a ridiculous idea. First, transparent paper is stupid, you won't be able to read anything you write on it. Second, how would you scan what you wrote? Can you imagine how much each sheet of this "transparent paper" of yours will cost if it needs to have an embedded chip in it smart enough to scan it? Third, you don't know anything about AI. And fourth, the note taking space is so crowded you wouldn't be able to make a dent. No no no no. That's an absolutely horrible idea!
And so it goes: the artist offers a whimsical idea. The judge shuts it down. The artist offers another one. The judge shuts it down too. Eventually both voices quiet down and you're left with a kind of uneasy emptiness in your head and this perception of yourself as someone who can't come up with good ideas.
The solution to this inner conflict is as simple as it is counterintuitive. Instead of working through your ideas sequentially, bouncing back and forth between the artist and the judge, process them in batches.
  1. First ask the judge to take a step back and let the artist generate a whole batch of ideas.
  1. Then ask the artist to take a break and have the judge apply his rigorous analysis to the those ideas.
  1. Now switch roles again and let the artist come up with ways to improve the ideas based on the judge's criticism. He'll probably come up with more ideas as well - let him.
  1. And then have the judge choose the best idea of the bunch.
This way, instead of fighting, these two aspects of your psyche will work together to generate and refine your ideas until you land on something truly remarkable.
To do this in practicle, take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns: raw ideas, criticism, and improved ideas.
notion image
Let the artist fill out the first column, then let the judge fill out the second. Now let the artist fill out the third column with a refined list of ideas. Finally let the judge cross out the ideas in the third column until there are two or three interesting ideas left.
Now that you have a few good ideas, you'll need to refine them, talk to people about them, and figure out which ones have the biggest potential for product market fit. Idealy you'll also find some customers that are willing to pay for your product before you dive into building it.
We go through this entire process - from forming a beautiful idea all the way to product market fit and paying customers - in small and highly focused GrowthLab cohorts. You can read more about how this works and apply to the next cohort at growthlab.so and you can also find me on Twitter @finereli. My DMs are always open and I'm happy to help you with anything you're stuck on.
Eli Finer

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Eli Finer