It’s been said that each of us comes up with ideas every year that could make us millionaires or help to change the world. Unfortunately, most of us don’t pursue those “ah ha!” ideas.
But I did. Twice.
The first was in 1984 when I was working at Georgia-Pacific as a cost accountant. There was one day that was especially tough, mostly because of problems we were having with our IT (at that time called “data processing”) group. Miscommunication was the root cause—accounting and data processing were talking two different languages.
That evening, I stopped by a Kmart for a reason I can’t recall, but I will always remember seeing a personal computer. It was the Commodore 64. I remember thinking: ‘This device is going to change the world because it is going to eliminate the barrier between people and information.’ I wanted to be part of that change by being the person in the middle – someone who could talk the language of business and technology.
That moment led me to enroll as a post baccalaureate student at Georgia State University, taking programming courses at night. Not long after, I joined the data processing group as a programmer trainee, eventually becoming the company’s CIO.
None of that would have happened if I hadn’t seized on my ‘aha!’ moment.
‘Aha!’ moments tend to happen when you:
1) look at things differently, or
2) when you are confronted with a problem and you think there has to be a better way
The next time you have an ‘aha!’ moment, there are three things you need to do to capitalize on the moment and your ideas:
Ignore negative voices. When the revelation comes, you’re going to be excited – then you’re going to start thinking that it’s either too simple or you don’t possess the necessary skills or resources to make it a reality. In addition, others are going to try to dissuade you. However, don’t stop talking to people about it. Eventually, you will run into someone who will tell you that you are on the right track and give you advice on what to do next. The key is to keep talking to people. Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea or that the idea isn’t original enough. You may have just figured out how to do it better!
For example, Uber and Lyft were not original ideas. More than 50 years ago, retired
old men in the inner city, who were looking to supplement their income, would stand
outside grocery stores and offer people rides home for less than the cost of a taxi.
They were called ‘gypsy cabs.’ The same is true for StubHub, TicketCity and the other
online ticket resellers. People in the inner city have been scalping tickets for years.
Whether original or not, the key is to keep talking to different people about it until
you talk to the right person to tell you the next steps to take.
2. Take it to the next level. You will have to invest the time, dollars and energy to get
the necessary knowledge and to build the prototype. In my case, I went back to school
and took programming and system design classes for six months. With my newly
minted degree, I looked for opportunities within the company to put my knowledge
and passion to work.
3. Be persistent. You have to knock on doors until someone gives you a chance to apply
the knowledge you have gained. If you keep knocking and don’t give up, someone will
eventually open the door. In my case, it was the manager (Dave Peterson) of Georgia-
Pacific’s Building Products data processing group who took a chance and hired me as
a programmer trainee. Don’t expect immediately success. It will be an iterative
process. My first programs didn’t work, but I kept at it. Once I got everything worked
out, it was on. The rest is history.
Before the end of this year, you will have an ‘aha!’ moment. Seize it and don’t let your doubts or negativity from others stop you from pursuing it. You will have to step outside of your comfort zone and obtain more knowledge. You will have to get someone to give you the opportunity to apply your knowledge. Don’t give up because you are told “no” or because it doesn’t first work as planned. When it does, you will be counting the dollars and on to pursuing your next ‘aha!’ idea.