I’m the inventor of ESPN. At least, that’s how I tell it when I regale the story of a college assignment in 1967. I was in Professor Ripley’s radio and television programming course at the University of Wisconsin when the door to an idea was opened.
Each of us was to select two broadcast markets, detect an under-served community need and fill the gap. For my assignment, I chose to research and recommend an all-sports independent television station.
Now the reality today is that I am not the billionaire creator of ESPN, but I had an idea I loved that was ahead of its time and clearly think about it more than 40 years later.
Undoubtedly, you have had an idea at some point that has struck you so fully that it lives with you day in and day out. It follows you to breakfast, creeps up in conversations and dances in your mind before you fall asleep. But you haven’t acted on it.
In a short list of reasons why you aren’t taking your idea to the next step, the most likely that can occur are “I’m too young,” “I’m too old,” “I don’t have the money,” “I don’t have the time” and “It’s too out there.”
The reasons feel valid, and to an extent they are. I could check most of those off the list of reasons I left my idea for an all-sports station in the classroom.
Whether you’ve left an idea behind or you’re currently letting it stew, there are a few things I have found that need constant reminding to ensure your ideas move forward.
1. Everything starts as an idea.
Some ideas are better than others. But to determine good from bad it takes time and patience and many times a test or two out in the marketplace. But for sure, even the best idea is criticized by those who didn’t think it up.
For instance, Professor Ripley was clear in his early skepticism surrounding elements of "all-sports television," making me more determined than ever to squeeze an A from the course.
2. Ideas develop from the heart.
To find what you truly love, let your instincts be your guide. Seize that crazy idea, the one that wakes you up in the middle of the night or comes to you while washing the car. Those are the ideas more likely to succeed.
In crafting my first novel, Bodies on the Potomac, I was constantly drawn to the keyboard. I’d be lost for hours with no awareness of time. When you love an idea, you can’t stay away from it. Let it move beyond the “idea stage” and witness how quickly an idea can form into a tangible endeavor.
3. Ideas are yours alone.
It’s easy for others to laugh at an idea and to ridicule its inventor. I knew the risk I ran with my own personal ESPN. But the professor came around, his skepticism eased and I ended up with the A.
It takes some nerve to go out there with an idea. It takes even more to plunge into a project when you have no idea about the outcome. Take the critique, the sideways glances and the mocking tone and push pass it. The idea belongs to you and approval by others is not required.
4. Ideas you ignore will haunt you.
I ignored the pursuit of an all-sports television station or network back in 1967. I wasn’t bright enough to know that somewhere out there in this economic wonderland called America there were investors who would have backed me. So while today I may not own a sports network, I can say with pride that because of another great idea I’m a published author.
If you’ve let an idea pass you by, don’t bury the next one in a closet of would-be dreams. Take your idea out there. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a seven-figure success, but you never know. At a minimum it could lead you to a career you love or maybe a healthy hobby.
Ideas by themselves offer very little beyond the rush of excitement you get when you think about it. Seize an idea when you have it or risk losing something amazing.