Richard Branson’s first business was Virgin Records. He’d started selling records via mail order in 1970, and by 1972 he had Virgin Records, the first of what would be more than four hundred companies.
Stefani Germanotta sang beautiful piano-accompanied songs and experimented with avant-garde dance music before becoming Lady Gaga and launching three incredible pop albums in five years, building a tremendous brand and establishing a tremendous recognition base. Now she can create any kind of music she wants, doing duet albums with Tony Bennett and making powerful emotional art like Joanne.
Jeff Bezos sold books online, and now Amazon runs half the world. Guy Fieri had a place called “Johnny Garlic’s” in California in 1996, and now he’s, well, he’s Guy Fieri. Elon Musk’s first company was called Zip2, a company that made freakin’ city guides for newspapers, and you probably didn’t even know that.
Here’s the central point of all of these examples: Once you “activate” an idea, activating future ideas becomes way, way easier.
Lots of people have good ideas. Hundreds, maybe thousands. And they sit in your brain forever for one of a hundred different reasons. Maybe you don’t have the resources to put them into action, or maybe you’re just not that motivated. But one of the big reasons people with lots of ideas don’t ever act on them is the sort of analysis paralysis that comes from having too many.
If you have 100 great ideas for a business, it can be just as daunting as having none. In your mind, you’re not choosing one idea to run with, you’re choosing to put a bullet in 99 and you just can’t do it. How can you abandon so many great concepts and focus on just one?
Here’s how: step one, recognize that it’s not choosing to focus on 100 ideas versus “just one.” It’s choosing to think about a hundred things and do nothing versus doing literally anything. Even the idea of “focusing” on a hundred things is ludicrous. You can only pick one.
Step two, recognize that you’re not putting 99 ideas in the grave in order to serve only one. What you’re actually doing is using that first idea to blaze a trail so that all the others can follow.
Richard Branson didn’t choose Virgin Records over Virgin Airlines, Mobile, Atlantic, or Trains. Stefani Germanotta didn’t choose to make pop albums instead of soulful ballads. They just picked one thing and did that first, and their success in that built them the machine that would produce all their other success.
Virgin Records was Richard Branson’s Opportunity Machine. The Fame was Lady Gaga’s. Your own Opportunity Machine can look like a lot of different things, but there are a few elements in common:
- It will teach you how to turn an idea into reality. The idea or the reality or both might not be as good as you expected, but making that first thing real is a powerful ability to gain. Once you have it, you’ll always have it.
- It will shape your life. Do you know why people have “empty nest” syndrome? It’s because once you shape your life around something big, like having kids, that shape stays even after the kids leave. Empty nesters are great babysitters (as everyone with a grandparent knows) not just because of their experience, but because of all the little things about their life that are already shaped around being prepared and able to support kids. Once you turn your life into a life that can “activate” ideas, it stays that way.
- It will give you a foundation of credibility. The ability to communicate your idea to others is foundational. No one truly accomplishes anything alone – whether you have to convince employees to join you, people to listen to you, customers to buy from you, investors to give you money, or vendors to sell to you, the ability to make others believe in your ideas is a necessity. After the first time, that gets a lot easier. Do you think Elon Musk would have much trouble getting people to invest in a new company? And this is true even if your first idea wasn’t successful – someone who failed knows about a thousand times more than someone who didn’t try, and other people know that, too.
Taking action on a single idea now drags all of those other ideas you have closer to reality. Trying to make a decision without taking action is next to impossible, so take action and use the results of that action to guide your decision. If you still can’t decide, act more. You’ll never run out of steps to take. The engine in your Opportunity Machine can run forever.