Good Ideas Require Long Runways

No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.

Victor Hugo

I came across this post in a “Drafts” file. All it contained was the title. The date: August 8, 2017.

I have no idea what triggered it or why I didn’t complete the thought in a published post. Such is the nature of ideas. When we leave them untouched, they slip into time’s passing flow to be lost in the blackness of the forgotten, the unpursued, and the unactuated.

However, when we write them down or record them in some way, they remain, like bread crumbs left to help us find our way back. Even if we aren’t sure where they are taking us.

My guess is that the post title was referring to the time it takes to put new business concepts into action. Likely, I was considering the many years it had taken to get certain things in place for our company or what it was going to take to implement the next round of an evolving vision. For us, three years has brought us a considerable distance: in business and at home.

Think about your vision for the future in 2017, where you’ve come, and what you are looking toward. Does it look like a great distance traveled?

The thing is, most ideas never go much of anywhere. They cascade across our consciousness throughout the day, rolling in and then out again, without fanfare or more than fleeting consideration. It reminds me of Robert Schuller’s famous quotation: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

We see this so frequently that we no longer notice. Information, ideas, and distractions race toward us so quickly that we can barely discern them in their moment let alone pull one out and focus on it with any intention. Well, at the least the ideas. We have no problem tuning-in to the distractions or losing ourselves in the information.

Then, when we do grab an idea, the slightest of vetting is normally more than enough to banish it to the pile of impossibilities we’ve left behind over the years. Why do we do this? The answer is pretty easy. Good ideas take work. Good ideas take time. Good ideas may invite change or risk. The comfort of inertia holds us and the security of status quo stills us.

Naturally, not every idea is a good one and that fact jades us over time. We get used to a steady flow of mediocre ideas and miss the occasional good one. Or, we see a decent idea but determine it’s not worth the effort to actualize. And so the pile of castaways builds and our expectations diminish until all we have is a lottery ticket mentality toward that flow of ideas. Nothing catches our attention unless it is clearly formed of the fabric of genius; that rare flash of brilliance that changes everything.

Please allow me to let you in on a little secret: those rare flashes of brilliance are built upon a thousand flickers of what we might see in the moment as mediocre. Just like the “overnight success” almost always occurs after much hard work and more than a share of failure, the best ideas are forged in the fires of time and refinement. Great ideas are built on a foundation of lesser ones.

The stark reality is that most of us lose our ideas, our faith, and our will in the pursuit of things over time. Sometimes we steer away from an idea because something better comes along. Sometimes we walk away from an idea because we learn along the way that it is no longer feasible. Often, our circumstances change in such a way as to make the idea unworkable. Or, we simply see the flicker of an idea and never pursue it.

In my career as a collector of ideas and a dreamer of dreams, I have yet to stumble upon the sure thing, the no-brainer, the zero risk, or the easy to execute idea that amounts to anything significant quickly. My experience has taught me, time after time, that good ideas require long runways. Even the seemingly brilliant ones.

Ideas are some of the most priceless treasures you can gather. Even the slightest flickers. It is the spark that starts the fire and we all need sparks in our lives. Lots of them. Rarely does anything begin at conflagration.

No, not all pursuits must be grand and not every idea is worth even the time it takes to shoot across our brain. However, the best ideas need to be nurtured from their humble beginnings and identifying, curating, and shepherding ideas to their highest state is a discipline unto itself. A discipline well worth our highest awareness and ongoing efforts toward improvement.

Finally, even when we cultivate and nurture an idea to goodness, acting upon it takes sustained determination. Good ideas will evolve and can become great ideas with ongoing effort. The long runway is one of action, discovery, refinement, and additional action. We must not only begin. We must also persist.

Thinking about 2021 or beyond? I am. My notebooks are ready and already beginning to fill up. There are ideas for next month. Ideas that will hopefully come to fruition in six months. Ideas that are twelve months away and ideas that will require a multi-year effort to actualize.

Want to change the world or achieve anything worth pursuing? Start collecting those ideas. Nurture them over the runway they require. Persist. Perhaps then, others will conclude that your brilliant idea and overnight success look so easy that they will be inspired to pursue their own version. Good. The long runway has to begin somewhere.


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