The Best Ideas You Never Had

Last Updated Sep 20, 2011 10:36 AM EDT

In the dictionary, the word "idea" is a noun. "Idea" should actually a verb, because an idea is only real if you actually do something with it.

I should know. I've had lots of ideas, but I've acted on very few of them.

For example, when I was graduating college the fitness boom was in its infancy. (Yes, I'm old as dirt.) When Nautilus and other companies introduced the first commercial weight training machines, strength training started to appeal to the average person. Throw in aerobics classes and unusual combinations of spandex and millions of people started working out. I saw an early Nautilus demo in New York and thought, "Hey, there's a real opportunity here. I should open a gym." I thought about it a lot, scouted locations, talked to manufacturers and lenders -- but that's all I did. Thirty years later I still feel a twinge of regret when I see a Crunch or Gold's or Bally's.

The same is true with the computer industry. I owned one of the first Kaypro II "portables" (it weighed about 25 pounds but was, technically, portable.) I was hardly a programmer but I did know more about computers than most... and when IBM-compatible computers started to hit the market I thought seriously about opening a retail store. (Remember, this was pre-Dell.) One manufacturer was even willing to front most of the capital because they wanted to quickly establish a distribution channel. While in retrospect the opportunity would have been relatively short-lived, for about 10 years that business could have thrived -- if I had done more than just think about it.

Want one more? Years ago a friend decided home healthcare would become a huge industry. He asked me to go into business with him. I thought about it a lot, even helping him flesh out his ideas and making smart suggestions that refined his startup plan -- but I didn't pull the trigger. Today he has locations in fifteen cities. The only connection I have with the business is that someday I will probably be a customer.

I can console myself by thinking that hindsight is 20/20 and I could never have known how things would turn out. But that's only partly true -- even at the time I felt sure those opportunities were great. Instead of acting, though, I let "idea" be a noun and not a verb.

Every day, would-be entrepreneurs let hesitation or uncertainty or even fear stop them from acting on an idea. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure are what stopped me and may be what stops you, too. Fitness and computers and home healthcare were some of the best ideas I never had because ideas without action are no longer ideas -- they're regrets.

Think about ideas you've had: Whether for a new business, a new career, or even just a part-time job. In retrospect, how many of your ideas would have turned out well, especially if you had given it your all? A decent percentage?

Probably so -- and if that's the case, try trusting your analysis, your judgment, and even your instincts a little more.

You will not be right all the time, but if you let "idea" be a noun, you will always be wrong.

Related: Photo courtesy flickr user Brian Hillegas, CC 2.0
  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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