You may have heard of James Altucher. He's a smart, interesting, and idiosyncratic dude. He’s currently making the rounds on the podcast circuit – you may have seen him with Joe Rogan, Rich Roll, or Tim Ferriss. Having made and lost several fortunes, he has an interesting view on life and he’s one of the few folks who is happy to talk about both his enormous successes and his spectacular failures.
One of Altucher’s recommended tools for transformation is to become an “idea machine.” He suggests that everyone write out ten ideas a day. Ten businesses to start, ten books to write, ten websites to build, etc. The goal is to exercise the brain muscle, and “make it sweat” as he mentions. He wrote an entire book around becoming an idea machine. I love the concept and tried it myself for some time.
In going through the Altucher idea machine process, I learned something about myself. I realize that I constantly see ideas in my everyday life, and I think that there are many other folks who have the same experience. If you’re perceptive, you’ll notice that some part of your life or the world could be better if only someone did ______ or created a ______. And just like that, an idea is born!
If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, you may start thinking your idea right into an IPO. Having worked with dozens of successful entrepreneurs, and having run a few of my own businesses, I know that the initial excitement around founding a business is intoxicating and mysterious. It’s also the easy part of the founder’s journey. Everything that comes after that initial idea is what’s really hard.
Experience tells me that there is a distinct flow to the thoughts and emotions that play out once a person starts down this path.
Stage 1… Doubt
Soon after your great idea, you begin to doubt that it is in fact a great idea. You wonder, if it’s so great, why hasn’t it been done before?
You doubt that you have the entrepreneur gene and the wherewithal to start a business. You chalk it up to crazy thinking and go back to where you were before “the idea.”
Stage 1 is where 90% of potential new businesses start and end.
Stage 2… Fear (round 1)
If you can get past the doubt, then you can begin to visualize some of the details around your idea and business. You begin to create your CEO self, your employees, and even envision what your office might look like. You can see yourself calmly guiding your terrifically successful startup.
And then: The fear seeps in. Fear that your spouse or friend will laugh at your ideas and your dreams. Fear that you don’t have the smarts or experience to pull it off. Fear that everyone will think you and your idea are just plain dumb. Fear that everyone will doubt you and your abilities. Fear that you will FAIL MISERABLY.
Stage 3… Am I crazy?
Somehow you push past the fear. You sheepishly tell your husband about your percolating new business. He doesn’t laugh! He says that your idea is solid, and is very excited for you. So is your best friend. Oh man, now what?
You make your first entrepreneurial coffee, open up your laptop and start a list called “what would I need to do in order to launch this idea?” And within a few moments, the reality hits of the sheer enormity of tasks, time, money and brain power it’s going to take to bring your business and product to life. You add a few more items to the list and close your laptop. You need a few days to decide what’s next for you. Are you really naive/stupid/crazy enough to actually commit to making your idea a reality?
If you pay close attention to what’s happening inside, you will know the right path. It doesn’t mean you will take it, but my experience is that you’ll know if and when it’s time for your entrepreneurial endeavour.
99% of potential new businesses never make it past this point.
Stage 4… Fear (round 2)
Stage 4 is where it gets real, real fast. You’re mostly excited as you see your vision begin to come to life. You think that all of those scary emotions are in the past, but there will be a day, week or month (year?) where dread becomes your Chief Marketing Officer. You’ll be petrified, and it will be way worse than anything you have ever experienced. It comes right after you ask yourself, “What in the f%ck am I doing?” And you make a long mental list of what you fear most...
Fear of rejection from potential investors
Fear of losing everything
Fear that there are other folks way ahead of you in developing a similar idea
Fear that you just aren’t good enough or smart enough
Fear that you are making a terrible mistake with your life
Fear that you will wreck your marriage and family
Fear that you will FAIL MISERABLY
You can wait for the fear to subside, but as my friend Seth Godin says, there are two problems with this strategy:
A. By the time the fear subsides, it will be too late. By the time you're not afraid of what you were planning to start/say/do, someone else will have already done it, it will already be said or it will be irrelevant. The reason you're afraid is that there's leverage here, something might happen. Which is exactly the signal you're looking for.
B. The fear certainly helps you do it better. The fear-less one might sleep better, but sleeping well doesn't always lead to your best work. The fear can be your compass, it can set you on the right path and actually improve the quality of what you do.
Seth says to “listen to your fear but don't obey it”. And by this point you’re not turning back anyway, so you’ll just need to find a way to stare your fear down and get to the task at hand.
I’m pretty intimate with the entrepreneur roller coaster at this point. Whether from my own ventures, or clients’ journeys, it can be a lonely, seemingly empty road. It’s scary to make big decisions with imperfect data and little knowledge of how things could go wrong. Listen to your fear, but don’t obey it.
I can tell you that I have indeed FAILED MISERABLY. More than once or twice. And it sucks. A lot. I’ve also had enormous success in ways I would never have imagined. Don’t let the fear of something in the future keep you from trying your best now. And don’t be scared to ask for help.
I’ll end where I started, with two of my favorite quotes from James Altucher:
“Everyone is an entrepreneur. The only skills you need to be an entrepreneur: an ability to fail, an ability to have ideas, to sell those ideas, to execute on those ideas, and to be persistent so even as you fail you learn and move onto the next adventure.
“Business is just a vehicle for transforming the ideas in your head into something real, something tangible, that actually improves the lives of others. To create something unique and beautiful and valuable is very hard. It’s very special to do. It doesn’t happen fast.”
If the fear and doubt is getting to you, you’re not sure what to do next, or just want to chat about stuff, feel free to get in touch with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading.