About a year ago, I had an experience that taught me one of my life’s biggest lessons. I learned it the hard way. Probably the most painful way.
A couple of friends and myself got together in Borders and sat down to chat about some ideas we had, and pick one to start working on. We had big ideas. Ones that can potentially change the world. Surprisingly, one small and simple idea kept presenting itself in many of the things we’ve discussed. One that’s so trivial that anyone can sit down in a couple of weeks to design it, code it, and publish it. We decided to give it a shot anyway, and to see how our collaboration will turn out. We all had our own thriving consulting/freelancing business, and we agreed to to this work on the side, in Google’s 80/20 manner. With my move to San Francisco, and the endless client demands, I let the idea gather some dust on my desk. We actually had a working prototype, and were finalizing some technical detail to apply some designs and finalize the product. But somehow, I didn’t give this idea the respect it deserved. After all, ANYONE can do it. It must be too trivial to become anything of value. Few weeks later, my perspective turned upside down. I was reading a technology blog one morning and saw an anouncement. Our idea was out there, gaining best of the show award, and getting investment and acquisition offers from several companies. Except that we weren’t the ones who shipped it. Someone else did. That day, I felt that someone has ripped a piece of me. Someone has kidnapped my child. Later, I realized that I didn’t even have the right to think this way. I didn’t really care for that idea enough to call it mine.
That incident made me reflect a lot on the nature and life of ideas. An idea is just a seed. As dead and as dry as a seed can be. A lot of people see it. And many even stop to look at it, hold it in their hands, and think about its potential. But few take the time to care for it and grow it. And fewer hold on to it when the plant, after years of care and attention, seems to bear no fruit. And somehow, those who are patient and persistent enough wake up one day to see a small blooming flower at the end of one branch, and know that they were given a nod of approval for their tenacity.
And there is time at which an idea feels like a drag. As it grows, it asks for more. And at times, it asks for far more than one can provide it. Even worse, it doesn’t show any signs of growth. It looks hopeless. And one stares at the soil where the seed is burried, and wonders if that seed will ever ‘break through’ and show a hint. And it’s during that time that one’s faith is tested. And once again, those who believed enough in their idea to realize it’s already pushing its roots deep through the soil are the ones who allow it to survive and see daylight.
I’ve been always waiting for “the right idea” to strike me, in order to move forward. I gave up on so many small ideas waiting for the big one, and I realized that every big idea starts small, and that I may never get to the right idea unless I try the wrong ones. Over the past couple of years, I have seen many companies that changed their direction, and vision, to adapt to changing market conditions. But if they weren’t moving forward in the first place, they can never change direction. As Einstein eloquently put it: “Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
Now that I learned my lessons, I am realizing that it’s one of the hardest thing I’ve got to do. I am currently working on a product so dear to me that it’s refusing to let go of me. When I almost gave up on it halfway through, I remembered my earlier lesson and came back to it. The fascinating thing is that the more I work on it, the more I am having silent conversations with it. It knows what it wants to become. It knows who it needs to help. And it knows how to control me to grow despite of my doubts and setbacks. And I am enjoying these conversations as ever. I have no idea whether this product can be useful to anyone, but I know it needs to exist strong enough that I have no other option other than to believe in it, and watch it through its secret life.