Are you killing your best ideas at birth?

Posted on: April 7, 2014

JK Rowling famously said that she got the idea for Harry Potter on a train journey from London to Manchester: “He strolled, fully formed, into my mind”, and she sketched out the plot outline for all seven novels during that journey. The rest, as they say, is history. Ideas and innovation are the life blood of any business. Stand still and you will stagnate and be overtaken by the competition, yet how many of us know how to consciously nurture our creativity and bring our ideas to fruition?

Women in particular can struggle with this as throughout history powerful women who stood out frequently paid a high price – Joan of Arc runs deep in our psyche.

Yet the creative process has distinct phases and if we know what to do at each phase we can dramatically increase the number of our creative ideas or “babies” which reach adulthood.


The initial phase is Inspiration.  An idea pops into your head and it has a freshness, originality and simplicity about it. It appears both innovative yet clear.  You feel excited and an urgent desire to put the idea into form in some way such as writing it down or telling someone. It is very important to take action as soon as possible – a first draft is fine. As Buckminster Fuller said: “The success or failure of an idea is largely dependent on what action you take within the first 24 hours of having it”.  The idea can seem so tangible when we first receive it that we can kid ourselves into thinking it will wait while we clear out our Inbox, take the cat to the vet etc. etc. It will not wait – act now!

The Backlash

The reason why it is vital to express the idea in some way at the Inspiration stage is that what comes next is The Backlash.  This is when the Voice of Doubt, which has been temporarily in abeyance while we receive inspiration, comes back with a vengeance:

“That’s a stupid idea!”

“No-one will be interested in that”

“What makes you think that’s original”

“Loads of people are doing that already – what have you got to add?”

Suddenly our shiny new idea that we were so excited about a few days ago starts to look puny and feeble under the savage scrutiny of this chorus of Harpies.  Like a Dementor, this voice sucks the life out of our ideas.  If we allow this voice to rule the roost then our baby is stillborn, never even allowed to take toddler steps into the world, let alone reaching adulthood.  The thing to realise is that this voice is simply part of the process. Indeed, the stronger the criticism, the more it is a sign that we are on to something good.  In the modern era we want to stand out from the crowd, have a strong brand and be an innovator. For our ancestors on the savannah standing out made you obvious to predators and likely to be eaten – blending in was necessary for survival. Our unconscious mind is reacting at this stage and wanting to keep us safe by not standing out.

So, how do we stop our unconscious from killing our ideas – which we need in order to thrive in the modern world?  If we have expressed our idea as a first draft in the Inspiration phase then it has an existence independent to us  – not yet viable on its own but able to take toddler steps.  At this stage I counter The Backlash voice by looking at my first draft – which invariably gives me a reality check that it does have merit. I then think of a simple next step – e.g. doing a quick first edit of the draft or showing it to a supportive person who will give me constructive feedback – and take this step.  I am not thinking about the finished product at this stage as that might scare me. If I keep going, and just recognise The Backlash as part of the process and not a serious voice to be engaged with, its power over me will lessen. Like the villain Voldemort in Harry Potter, the voice of The Backlash is a disembodied spirit looking for a body to inhabit to give it power. You have a body and therefore are much more powerful than it. When you are feeling overpowered by this voice, focus for a moment on your belly, breathe in to it and feel your centre of gravity.

So remember:

  • Act on your idea as quickly as possible – record it or share the bare bones within the first 24 hours
  • Recognise The Backlash as part of the process and take back your power
  • Get the external support you need to keep going
  • Banish the curse of perfectionism – keep working in small steps until you are ready to launch your idea into the world
  • Remind yourself that the world needs your creativity and unique gifts – we all have something to offer.

After all, if JK Rowling had said to herself “Who needs another children’s book – and I don’t suppose it will get published anyway” she would never have been the proud creator of Harry Potter and millions of children would have been denied that inspiration.  Your clients, your organisation and the world need your ideas.

If you need coaching support to develop or pitch your creative business ideas then get in touch.