How to Narrow Your Ideas to Choose One

Jan 28, 2021 | Leadership

“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” -Scott Belsky

In virtually every human pursuit — from personal growth to the arts to business — ideas and the execution of those ideas is what drives us forward.

And when it comes to ideas, there are basically two kinds of people:

1. Those who struggle to come up with what feels like good ideas.

2. Those gifted with a ton of ideas, but who struggle to pick the right idea to pursue.

As for me, I come from camp #2. Ideas come to me in waves, and when the waves hit they’re like tsunamis. I’ve got the debris — dozens of notebooks and countless sticky notes, napkins, even birch bark with my barely legible notes about the idea on them — stuffed in manila envelopes to prove it.

My problem, however, used to be that when it came time to work on a new thing — in my new article, video, or book for example — I’d review all my ideas and feel… CONFUSED AND OVERWHELMED.

My issue: there were actually too many good ideas. And how on earth do I pick just one idea? Especially if I was going to be investing a significant amount of my time and energy into it.

Sometimes this feeling of overwhelm led to my inertia. I would walk away entirely and not get anything done for hours, days, even weeks on a few occasions, because I was stifled by too many choices.

Sometimes this overwhelm leads to me choosing something, starting it, then abandoning it, because this other idea actually seemed better after all. Until I abandon that one too for the next better idea. And so on.

If ideas that I started but never finished were worth money, I’d be a billionaire. Ugh!

I finally realized I had to step back and figure out the healthiest approach to pick the right ideas to pursue. And to make a really long story short (a story involving extensive research, lots of trial and error, journeys to wizards in far-off lands, fighting lions, and more), here’s what I discovered.

It’s Not Just About What You’re Good at or What You Know

When it comes to choosing the best ideas to pursue, some common advice is to pick what you’re good at or something you already know about.

That’s all well intentioned and “good advice,” unless you’re good at a lot of things!

I’ll also bet that, like me, you could become knowledgeable and good at other things — with a little to a lot of effort, depending on the thing and if you really wanted to learn it.

The problem with this advice is that it encompasses a wide range of possibilities, and it’s usually of little help at narrowing down your best ideas. And many, if not most, of your ideas likely fall under the umbrella of things you already know or are good at anyways.

It’s not Just About What’s Profitable or What Other People Want

If you’re in business, or you’re working on something that you want other people to desire in any way, these common criteria for choosing your best ideas certainly matter.

However, they should always be a secondary part of the choosing equation. If you just choose to pursue ideas that others’ want, but that you personally aren’t fired up about doing, the result is always mediocre at best.

Far more important is the most important criteria you’ll discover below.

It’s Not Just About What You’re Passionate About

It’s also common advice to pick the ideas you are passionate about. But while this gets closer to the most powerful factor, this advice can also be too vague to actually help you narrow down to find and pick your best ideas.

Because again, like the advice to do what you’re good at, you are likely passionate about many things. And most if not all of the ideas you do have are all related to what you are passionate about anyways.

It’s kind of like being handed a big plate of different cupcakes, all of which you love, and being told to choose the one you love. Really? Well-intentioned, but not necessarily helpful.

It’s About What Really Bugs You

This, I have discovered, is as magic as it gets for both discovering and picking the best idea to pursue.

As you may be surprised to see, all the best ideas — those with the most inherent energy in them to drive you forward to making the ideas a reality — start with this question: What really bugs the hell out of you?

There are, of course, many different phrasings of this question that may ring more true for you, depending on who you are, such as:

  • What would you most love to improve, within yourself or out there in the world?
  • Or, what really really frustrates you?

And to help you fully understand why this is so powerful, let’s use you as an example.

Let’s say you are very interested in your personal growth. You read blogs, magazines, books, and more on the topic.

And you’d just love to feel less anxiety, to boost your self-esteem, overcome procrastination, feel less lonely, make more money, and… and… and… BOOM!

Those are all separate ideas you have. And while your desire to execute on all of them is admirable, it’s also a recipe for failure at all of them. Because you are human, and you cannot possibly achieve all that. You’ll likely bounce around all these ideas, sometimes for years, and not apply yourself to actually achieving any one of them.

So instead, ask what [insert the challenge] really bugs the hell out of you the most? Sure, you’d like to improve in every area of improvement there is, but what particular area most gnaws at you? What one thing would you most like to improve about you?

Whatever you answer, that is the “idea” you need to pick and focus on.

Asking this one big question works in every professional and personal area of life where you are trying to generate the next area to focus your ideas. Here are some more examples:

Whether you feel like you’ve got no ideas, or a thousand ideas to pick from, pinpointing the zig that you most want to zag is simply the most powerful way to generate and choose that best next idea to work on.

Not only will it provide you the most motivation to keep working at it, but if your idea is to be experienced or purchased by others, chances are great that:

  • Many out there are just as bothered by that thing that bugs you the most, and will embrace your solution.
  • More than any other idea you could pursue, your energy and drive will shine through those ideas that you pursue with this as your #1 criteria.

Make a list. Check it Twice.

Consider making lists of the things that really bug you.

(Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be a complete list. There’s no such thing. The beauty is that it will never be a complete list, because the world and your brain will happily keep serving up new things to bug you, which is something to actually be grateful for!)

Go ahead and categorize them by the different areas of your life.

Make one for social issues. You might add things like the polarization in politics; the boring buildings being built these days; people talking on cell phones in a theater; or even the ugly shoes most women are wearing.

Make one for your work, your home, and any area of your life as you see fit.

Then check it twice. Or three times.

Check it to see which of these problems really, really bug you the most. If you have a huge stash of ideas like I do, match your “Bugs the Hell Out of Me” lists against these ideas.

Which issue or list most excites your senses? Which issues make you want to leap out of your chair and do something?

In each area of your life, in whatever mediums you work in, you’ve now got a clear roadmap of the best ideas to pursue. (If you are in business, for example, you can further narrow down by secondary factors such as how profitable an idea might be, or how much it will cost to develop the idea.)

So the next step is to go do it!

This is a very powerful way to both create and pick your best ideas and drive them to completion. Please share it with others, because we need more great ideas that become a reality. And please share your thoughts on this with me.

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Jeremy Miller

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