How to Identify Your Idea Debt & Pay It Off

Great Ideas, Little Action

I am no stranger to ideas. I get excited about an idea and I start to imagine myself doing what it takes to bring my idea to life. I set goals for myself. I say that I will spend 1 or 2 hours a day developing my craft. I imagine spending late hours working on my idea to craft it into something awesome and impactful. I tell my friends or colleagues about my great idea and how it will be a game-changer. My idea consumes my life for a brief time, then nothing happens. Sometimes I never even get to my computer or pull out a notebook and start the earliest steps needed to begin working on my great idea. It all just stays in my mind and remains there as something I wished I would have done, but never did.

You don’t have to be a full-time designer or creative like myself to relate to this situation. You probably have seen a great DIY project on Pinterest and thought about what it would take to do the project themselves, probably even buying supplies or materials to have them sit in a bag in the corner of your home or garage and never used. I’ve had friends tell me about their new camera they just bought for their new photo series they are going to do, but I end up seeing them post their camera on Craigslist half a year later. I have had family talk up their idea for their own clothing brand and ask me for my help designing a logo, with nothing but a name picked out for the brand 1 year later.

Why is it that we stay so passionate about an idea for 1 week, but then quickly lose interest the next week? It’s because we are building up too much Idea Debt.

What Is Idea Debt?

Idea Debt is the collection of ideas that never come to reality because of the over-romanticization of accomplishment that leads to no action at all. As put by designer and film maker, Satchell Drakes, it is “why the anticipation for the weekend is so much more exciting and captivating than thumbing through Yelp and your contact book on Saturday wondering what you are actually going to do on that weekend.” It is the constant hype of ideas that will never match the expectations in your mind.

The term was first coined by author and illustrator, Kazu Kibuishi. He describes Idea Debt as “too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be… and too little time actually making the thing.”

In an interview with Jessica Abel, Kibuishi told a story:

“I like snowboarding, and I used to like hitting all the jumps. And when I would go down the mountain, I would notice a bunch of young snowboarders who were waiting at the top of the jumps.

They may look like they’re waiting their turn. But in fact that they’re waiting there because they’re afraid to hit that jump. And what they don’t realize is that, over time they’re getting colder.

The Idea Debt of having to make that jump, and land it, and be impressive, is getting greater because of the amount of time they’re investing, waiting there, getting colder, at the top of the hill.

By the time they actually do it, they’re probably not going to fulfill that dream. So I learned to just hit the jump or pass it. Do it in the moment, or not at all.”

Paying off Your Idea Debt

Paying off your Idea Debt sounds easy: Make Ideas Happen.

I wish I could tell you it was just that simple but that would be a disservice to you because I know too well that I have told myself countless times to just get it done with no to little resolve. Motivating yourself takes time and effort but can be better managed with actionable steps like the following:

The best way to pay off your Idea Debt, like any debt you have, is to find out how much debt you have. Get a notepad and think about what you wish you would have done, but never did. Be specific. Get your ideas down on paper. It will be much easier to track your ideas if you get them in one place. If you end up filling a notebook with ideas, don’t feel bad! You should be incredibly proud that you can generate ideas. Now is the perfect time for taking those ideas and making them into something great.

Next is to understand your limits or barrier of entry. You are limited in the time and resources you may have to bring these ideas into working, real life things. Write down what resources you have right now in the moment. Where are you? How much time do you realistically have at work or after work? What other commitments do you have both in time and finances?

If you are wishing to complete your photo series, do you have a camera? Do you even have the time to take pictures for the series? What do you have to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to this project?

Be honest with yourself, but don’t bring yourself down. Don’t hype your idea more, but don’t discourage yourself either. By establishing your limits, you can better determine what can help motivate and keep you accountable for your idea to become reality.

Hype is your biggest debtor of ideas. Telling all your friends about your idea before you have even started your idea gives you the same feeling and praise that you would have if you accomplished your project or idea.

Get exited about your idea when you have something to physically show or share. Get the project to 80% completion before teasing it to your friends or posting it on social media. By doing this, you will get necessary feedback from your friends or peers to complete the project and will feel obligated to finish since you have already invested time and resources into your project already.

As Kibuishi said, learn to either hit the jump, or skip it all together. Prioritize your passions and ideas. You won’t be able to accomplish all of them. Instead just focus on one idea that you are particularly passionate about and have the resources to finish. Having 1 of 9 projects completed is better than having nothing accomplished.

Satchell Drakes phrased it best: Done is Better than Perfect. You will always wish you would have done something different when you are done with your project, but having something completed is always an opportunity for growth and to continue to build on. Don’t focus on your results not being like what you had visioned in your head. Remember that hype is your biggest debtor. Your idea may not be possible like how you have it in your head just yet. You can always refine later or build upon once you have something near completion.

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