I see a lot of articles, books, and other materials aimed at creatives that promise effective ways of thinking up winning ideas. That dash of inspiration is indeed often elusive. But I have noticed that there are many other times when I have what I call my Lightning Bolt Idea — that perfect concept that simply presents itself within seconds of hearing a need or reading a brief. We all have those times where ideas come easily and present themselves, sometimes without even being summoned. It's what happens next that I often find difficult.
It reminds me of Thomas Edison's famous observation that success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. That other 99% can be daunting, and not just because of the enormity of it. It's finding the route that can be a problem...knowing where to apply all the effort that your creative adrenaline is ready to supply. As a friend of mine once said after securing a government grant for a dream project, "Oh, no. Now we have to make the damn thing." Ideation is sometimes the easy part.
When faced with a great idea and not much else, I find it helpful to line up three important elements: Commitment, Process, and Resources. It's a way of adding structure where I see an open way ahead but have no compass. (I should note that the project managers and consistent "doers" reading this might find the following rather elementary...but the creatives know what I'm talking about.)
Commitment is easy on a large group project. You have a deadline and a lot of people to be accountable to. But when the project is yours alone, it's easy to take breaks and put off work at the first sign of ambiguity or lack of definition. The key here is to impose deadlines and accountability where there are none. Make a commitment by getting the word out, or by bringing others in on the plan. Once it's got others attached via collaboration, expectation, or investment, there's a much greater chance that you'll make it a reality.
Process is that road map that gives you each next step and makes commitment easy. Once you have a sense of process — a series of steps to follow in order — the question of "Now what?" has a lot of little answers in convenient bite size chunks. The way to do this is to visualize your outcome and work your way back. Pretty soon, it's easy to see a path amidst that vast expanse, with a promising dot on the horizon coming into view. The others you've pulled in will benefit from this as well.
Finally, resources. It's key to know what — and whom — you need and when. Knowing when to ask for help is one of the most important elements of the creative process, whether you are working in areas that require the expertise of another or you just have too much to do in too little time. The most successful idea people I've ever met have all surrounded themselves with people smarter than they are, and they're not afraid to admit it. Having an idea and getting others interested in it is a talent as much as project management, programming, an finance are. So find and inspire others who are great at what they do, and aspire to be the dumbest person in the room.
That's the best way I know to put legs on a good idea, but I'm always interested in others' opinions and success stories. So, if you have anything to share, please do.