Nine Obstacles That Sabotage Bringing Ideas to Fruition

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

If you’re like me you’ve got more ideas in your head than you know what to do with. Several years ago I adopted the David Allen system of capturing someday-maybes. I’m not sure this was a good plan. As a result of writing down every idea for a future book, play, game, article, sermon, cartoon, art project, slide show, power point presentation, caricature, volvelle, business idea, new model for conflict resolution, therapeutic, home, family, financial, and health project I’ve now got a list of over a thousand “someday maybes.” I’m not going to live long enough to finish 99.9% of them.

Perhaps you know the feeling: guilt for not reading that book screaming, “Read me!”, sadness for not writing that novel screaming, “Write me!,” and depression for not drawing that graphic novel screaming, “Draw me!” There’s the embarrassment of telling friends about grandiose projects that now languish. And then there’s the frustration of not having a disciplined enough mind to stick to a task until it’s complete.

Your list of creative someday-maybes may include building a computer, starting a business, landscaping the yard, learning a new hobby, taking or teaching a new class, launching a blog, opening a restaurant, making a film, selling homemade jewelry, or refinishing that old piece of furniture in your garage. What’s the deal with these creative brains? Why do we start a million projects and bring so few to completion? Why is cooking up ideas effortless but doing them so difficult? Why can’t we stick to a project?

I’ve read a dozen books about creativity over the years and have yet to discover the silver bullet that cures the distracted brain flitting like a moth from idea to idea. One of my someday-maybes is to write the great American mixed metaphor. Another of my someday-maybes is to cure Attention Deficit Disorder without pharmaceuticals. If not that, at least discover the trick to sustained focus. If not that, at least understand the causes and cures for boredom. I’ve got a long way to go but here’s a list of key suspects behind the proliferation of ideas and dearth of completions.

1. Drug addiction. Thinking up new ideas squirts the pleasure drug dopamine into our system. Doing the hard work of acting on that idea turns off the flow of dopamine. The thrill of invention is replaced by the grind of execution.

2. Fantasy. When new ideas show up we imagine it’s the best idea ever like those singers on American Idol who think they sing like Adele but sound like a duck.

3. Distractions. Hearing from the creative muse is a thrill but she eventually gets hoarse and another one quickly comes along with a louder voice and she woos us into her seductive clutches. Too many voices!

4. Waning value. This is the most puzzling aspect of boredom. How can an idea that initially gives us goosebumps, energy-enriched insomnia, and adrenaline-charged bliss lose its charm? It can’t be that the idea changes; it must be us.

5. Waning sustainability. Maybe it’s not the nail that loses it’s attraction to a magnet, maybe its the magnet that loses its magnetism. Maybe it’s not our idea that loses its luster, maybe the problem is our inability to stay enamored with luster. What can we do to protect our brains from creative delight fatigue? I don’t know yet.

6. Self doubt. One minute we imagine giving our Nobel Prize acceptance speech and the next minute we imagine being parodied as fools on Youtube.

7. Inferior quality. Woody Guthrie once said, “I wrote a thousand folk songs hoping at least one of ’em would be good.” He ended up writing Roll On Columbia, Washington State’s official song. In 60 years I’ve left a trail of a thousand poems, businesses, guitar ditties, books, drawings, handouts, skits, caricatures, data wheels, and cartoons not one of which has become Washington State’s official anything.

8. Skill deficit. The idea generating part of our brains must be huge and the idea execution, staying motivated, and bringing ideas to completion part is microscopic.

9. Competing priorities. Illness, home repairs, bills, jobs, weddings, holidays, and birthdays prevent us from staying engaged, from maintaining interest, and sustaining concentrated focus.

If anything those books on creativity have taught me, creative brains that come up with ideas but don’t complete ideas are not alone. Why else would we read, “Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings,” “Better the end of a project than it’s beginning” and “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” If you’re like me with too many ideas and too little time to finish em all, I feel ya!

Now, back to that Great American mixed metaphor………..