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A client of mine, Jack, has been entrepreneurially minded for his whole life.
He’s an idea machine, and he’s constantly coming up with cool business ideas. He can’t help it — it’s just how his brain works.
Naturally, he’ll get excited about a new idea and want to share it with people. As soon as inspiration hits (which is frequently), he’ll text his brother or call his mom or tell the coworker on the other side of his cube.
Their reactions aren’t always what he’d hoped for. In fact, they’re usually pretty discouraging. They’ll ask a million questions about how it will work — questions he can’t yet answer, since he’s still working out the idea in his mind — or they’ll jump to all the reasons why it’s risky or impractical or straight-up impossible.
Usually, after these deflating conversations, Jack will feel less enthusiastic about the idea, and often he’ll end up abandoning it altogether.
When Jack came to coaching, he told me he was afraid he’s all ideas and no action. He was feeling like maybe he wasn’t cut out to be an entrepreneur after all, since he couldn’t seem to stick with an idea and make it a reality.
“Your problem isn’t that you have too many ideas, or you’re flaky, or you lack follow-through, or anything like that,” I told him. “Your problem is just that you share your ideas too soon, and with the wrong people.”
NEW IDEAS ARE LIKE A FLICKERING CANDLE
Think of any new idea or inspiration you have as a small spark. I like to imagine them as a singular lit candle.
A candle flame is easy to extinguish. A gust of wind or breath of air can blow it out in an instant, and that’s that — no more fire.
The same is true of a brand-new idea. It’s fragile, vulnerable. A few pointed questions, a negative comment, or a judgmental eye-roll can be enough to squash the idea before it even had a shot.
Once a small spark grows into a bonfire, on the other hand, it’s much harder to put out. Blowing on it doesn’t make any difference. The wind actually makes it stronger. Even a bucket of water isn’t enough to quell it.
When you give your ideas time, energy, attention, and a safe space to grow — when you allow yourself to vision about them, do research, consider logistics, and get excited and motivated — then your candle flame starts turning into a bonfire.
If you share your idea before it’s a bonfire, however, you run the risk of having the spark stamped out before it ever had a chance to grow and flourish.
MOST PEOPLE HAVE GOOD INTENTIONS, BUT BAD ADVICE
I don’t want you to think I’m implying that the people in your life are purposely trying to shut down your ideas. Most people don’t mean to be Debbie-downers, blowing out your candle the moment you light it.
They think they’re being helpful, pointing out concerns and asking about logistics and voicing any skepticism they may have. Their intention is usually a loving, protective one. They want to look out for you and make sure you’re making the “right” decision (based on their idea of what’s “right,” of course).
But they don’t realize that what they’re actually doing is shutting down possibilities and limiting you.
It’s up to you to recognize that your idea is still in its infancy stage and needs protecting, not questioning.
THEIR REACTION IS MORE ABOUT THEM THAN YOU
Also keep in mind that, when other people have a strong reaction to your ideas, their response is nearly always about THEM, not YOU.
For example, when Jack shares his latest business idea with his mom, she tends to get anxious and ask a million questions and point out all the potential risks. That’s not because his idea is inherently anxiety-inducing or needlessly risky — it’s just because she places a strong value on stability, so any form of risk feels threatening to her.
Similarly, when Jack tells his brother about a new idea, he immediately voices all the reasons why it’s outlandish and won’t work. But that’s not because the idea is actually impractical. See, Jack’s brother has also always wanted to run his own business, but assumed he couldn’t make it work, and now he’s projecting that same fear onto Jack.
Their reactions have nothing to do with whether this idea is right for Jack, and everything to do with the fears and anxieties that the idea triggers within themselves.
Again, it’s not intentional! It’s a normal, unconscious human reaction. But it can choke the life out of a potentially great idea before it ever had a chance to see the light of day.
KEEP YOUR IDEAS TO YOURSELF AT FIRST
That’s why I think it’s smart to keep your ideas to yourself for a little while, at least while they’re brand new and most vulnerable.
I get why you want to share new ideas. They’re exciting! And naturally you want to share that excitement with the people in your life.
But it can be equally exciting — and way more productive — to be an incubator for your ideas. Vision about them. Play with the possibilities. Go down the rabbit hole of research. Imagine your idea becoming a reality. Think through how you would get started.
In essence, create a safe space for your idea to grow. If it fizzles out on its own, no big deal. But if it grows and gets more exciting as you nurture it, your idea might just turn into a raging bonfire, at which point negative feedback will barely be able to touch it.
WHEN & HOW TO SHARE YOUR IDEAS WITH OTHERS
First, give yourself time to sit with your idea. I recommend not sharing it with anyone else for at least 24 hours, so you can figure out how you feel about it before getting inundated with feedback from others. But you might need days or weeks or even longer to feel solid enough in your idea to voice it out-loud to someone else.
When you areready to share it, start with the safest people in your life. If you have a friend, family member, coworker, or even just an acquaintance who is slow to judgment and quick to offer support and encouragement, that’s the person you want to go to first with your new idea.
Keep in mind that often the people closest to you are not the safest people to share ideas with. It’s not because they don’t care about you — in fact, it’s often because they love you so much and they’re so intertwined with your life decisions that they can’t be objective. They’re much more likely to get emotionally triggered by your idea than a more casual acquaintance who isn’t personally affected by your decisions.
(Side note: The whole point of coaching is that it offers a safe, non-judgmental space for you to explore thoughts, ideas, and possibilities so you can figure out what you really want and start turning it into a reality.)
Wait to share your ideas with the most opinionated and/or highly reactive people in your life until your idea has reached bonfire-status, when it’s strong enough to withstand their reaction. An added benefit of waiting to tell these people is that, by the time you’re ready to share your idea with them, you’re confident and optimistic enough about it that you’ll present it in a way that is less likely to trigger their negativity or criticism.
So tell me — have you had the experience of sharing an idea too soon, with the wrong people, and having your candle flame burnt out? Leave a comment to let me know how this resonates with you!
Kristen (& Rachel)
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Great Read! I didn’t know I needed to hear this until I read it ..lol. My mind apparently goes a million miles a minute. Always trying to keep up with operating a nonprofit and always thinking of new things to implement. However, as my mind turns my mouth start flapping out ideas to my husband. He finds reasons why my thoughts/ideas wouldn’t work. I get frustrated and seems like my nonprofit is now spinning circles. Not going anywhere and getting stagnant. Here I thought my hubby was a good sounding board until I read your blog. Thanks. I needed to read this. I need to keep new ideas to myself until I have a solid plan on implementing the new program or concepts into the nonprofit.
Glad this post showed up for you right when you needed it, Judi! I’d love to hear an update on how this new approach impacts your nonprofit. 🙂
I find it’s not just that our sharing of ideas triggers the other persons fears/negative emotions but it also triggers me. Brings all of my fears to the surface and if I’m not strong enough to push through them, I self sabotage my whole idea!! Now I see.. be quiet, wait and discover, get strong then share!
Such a good point, Sandy! We can easily get just as triggered by our own premature sharing. I hope (and believe) that keeping ideas to yourself a *little* longer helps you build more confidence in them!
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and what you said is so true! I love the analogy of the candle flame. Having enthusiastically and naively shared some of my ideas and plans to people close to me expecting to get a supportive response, I got instead negativity and downright hostility sometimes. I’m more cautious now who and when I tell, it’s hard because I’m naturally enthusiastic and love creative ideas. But I love the idea of letting the flame become more of a bonfire so you can warm up to it and bask in it! Getting the right kind of support is so important!
So true, Mimi — finding the right support for your ideas is HUGE! And sometimes, you’re your own best support. 😉 Glad you enjoyed the candle analogy!
This is so true! Jony Ive has talked about this a few times – ideas are fragile, need someone to care for them. When you’re trying to share them, the room of people need to give them some space, room to breathe, free from judgement, to see what they might become.
I also once read it’s wise to “share your give up goals, not your get up goals…” and I wonder if that relates: If you remind yourself with other people of something you’re trying to stop doing in this current world, perhaps it’s easier for them to connect with you than if you’re sharing something that’s in what we’ll call the “imaginary world of the future,” one where many things are unknown, and the future in your mind, and the one in theirs, could be very different worlds!
Ohh, I love that distinction between “give up goals” and “get up goals”! I agree that it probably makes more sense to share things you’re trying to stop doing with others, since that adds powerful accountability. But the future-based ideas are more fragile and amorphous, since they’re still so full of possibility, that they deserve time to marinate and become more solid before being thrown out into the world. Thanks for sharing that, Nate! 🙂