4 Steps to Shape a Half-Baked Idea

Imagine you’re going about your day. Everything’s normal. Maybe you’re watching a movie or grabbing a cup of coffee or you’re in the shower or in a meeting that’s lost its focus. And then, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, you get an idea. The idea isn’t fully formed. And, it’s not clear enough to even say out loud yet. Calling it an idea might even make it sound too tangible. It’s more of a feeling – one that you don’t know what to do with. 

Everyone has ideas. Ideas to change things. Ideas to make things. Ideas to challenge conventional wisdom. Entrepreneurs tend to be the people that act on those ideas. Clayton M. Christensen, a brilliant professor of strategy and disruptive innovation at Harvard Business School, teaches that “No idea for a new growth business ever comes fully shaped. When it emerges, it’s half-baked, and it then goes through a process of becoming fully shaped.” 

When an idea arrives, it’s not always easy to capture. It takes work to tease it out of hiding in the corners of your mind. Here are 4 ways to shape a half-baked idea. 

Grab a pen. 

Capturing your thoughts on paper will help crystalize them. Draw a picture or write down a few key words – or both. Do whatever feels natural for you. But, be careful not to overthink what you document. You’ll risk losing the core of the idea if you waste mental energy trying to form the perfect sentence or phrase or picture. Let it flow freely from you. Keep it simple. Resist the urge to make sense of it just yet. Experiment with synonyms. Make a list of what it’s not. Draw arrows to make connections. Write until you feel like you’ve satisfactorily emptied your brain. 

Walk away. 

It may seem counterintuitive, but once you’ve captured the essence of your idea, you’ll want to give it some space. Just walk away from it and do something else. In fact, the more different the better. Go for a walk. Read a book. See a movie. Go get some outside inspiration and then return to your idea with a fresh perspective. 

Answer some questions.  

At this point you’ll have the clarity to be able to start making sense of it and determine what’s core to the idea and what’s just noise. Use these questions to help you: 

  • Who is it for?
  • What do they need? 
  • What are you thinking of providing to them?
  • How do you know they need it?
  • How is it different than what’s already out there?
  • What might it look like?
  • Why does it matter?

Share it. 

If you’re comfortable talking about your idea, then this is a great option. Find someone you trust and explain your idea to them. Hopefully, you have someone in mind who will listen without judgement and can ask you questions to help you see things from a different perspective. If you don’t have anyone or aren’t ready to share, try just saying what you wrote out loud. Or chat with a coach, I happen to know a guy.

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