Idea Shaping: From Brainstorm to Reality

Experts offer practical solutions for implementing great ideas.

“Too many people take their dreams to the graveyard. Under the rectangular pieces of sod are songs yet unsung, books left unwritten and masterpieces that were never painted. If I could mine the potential out of one graveyard, I’d be the richest person on earth!”

I once heard Wayne Cordeiro, best-selling author and founding pastor of New Hope Fellowship Church in Hawaii, make this observation. It has stuck with me. As someone who believes that ideas can and have changed our world, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to bring about impact. I’m not alone. Words like “ideation” and “innovation” have become buzzwords for our culture, including our churches. But a new—and much needed—conversation is starting that gives hope to actualizing our dreams. A growing number of leaders and experts are examining and talking about what it takes to move ideas forward and make them happen.

In the realm of ideas, there’s no shortage of passion, but passion without an actionable plan will eventually end up in the grave, sometimes literally. Far too many ideas experience premature death because they lack intentional strategy, a sustainable and scalable process, and a viable network. Idea execution requires an organized process. Think about it. What great idea of yours still lies untouched in a half-written Google doc? Of all the good ideas that have come out of one of your staff or committee meetings, have any seen the light of the day?

The good news is that there are proven ways to help concepts become reality. We talked to some ideators with notable track records who freely shared their insights for what it takes to move an idea forward. Out of those conversations, specific principles and truths emerged.

Let the idea making begin.

Idea-Shaping Principle No. 1
Yes, implementing an idea is hard work.

A new idea is often inspiring, life-giving and full of hope, notes social entrepreneur Jeff Shinabarger, who has brainstormed and implemented ideas for numerous creative and cause-oriented projects like and Plywood People, an innovative community addressing social needs through sustainable goods, awareness campaigns and creative services.

“Having an idea is really exciting, but the true value comes in the hard work of implementation,” Shinabarger says. “People who implement rise quickly in influence.”

Idea making requires a high level of intentional planning, strategy and hard work. Unfortunately, too many creative leaders have given themselves a false sense of permission not to organize, all in the name of artistry and creativity. But reality is that most creative people who live out their dreams have actualized their passion through intentional planning and hard work.
Creativity requires organization.

Creative research companies like Behance, founded by Scott Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen (see sidebar) have rightly pointed out that ideas are, as Thomas Edison famously quipped, “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” A lack of organizational “gifting” should never be an excuse for a lack of implementation.

Bottom line: There are no magical shortcuts from idea to implementation.

Idea-Shaping Principle No. 2
The most potent obstacles to idea-shaping lie within us.

Good ideas take time to develop, yet too many leaders give up on concepts far too early. Some rationalize it as stewarding limited resources or a God-given change of direction when, in fact, it may be their own inability or unwillingness to work through the pain of idea making.

Catalyst Executive Director Brad Lomenick notes that feeling frustration is when breakthrough often occurs.

“Many leaders don’t know how to let an idea be shaped, beaten up and/or made better,” he says. “The development of an idea is a process and requires the person who came up with the idea to be open for formation and even directional change.”

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For others, a perceived lack of resources becomes an excuse not to implement. “In reality, that can actually fuel creativity,” says Dawn Nicole Baldwin, founder and lead strategist of the strategic branding firm AspireOne. Her company has implemented branding campaigns for Willow Creek Community Church, Seacoast Church and Granger Community Church, among others.
“Often in my work with clients, the abundance of options and resources is a hindrance to implementation because it breeds indecisiveness,” she relates. “Too many options can obscure the necessary paths to implementation.”

Idea-Shaping Principle No. 3
Spatial ideation must be considered in the process.

Physical environment and space qualify as significant factors in the idea-making process. The environment that surrounds us fuels our creativity and ability to see and feel what we’re trying to form. You don’t have to be in the “coolest” space to create, but pursue the kind of space that could offer the most relevant experience related to your passions.

For example, if your church’s passion is to elevate the poor in your city, developing ideas in a boardroom probably wouldn’t be the best option. Being in and sometimes dwelling in the environment of those you want to serve is the first step in idea development. The most creative concepts reside in the environment of the people it will ultimately benefit.

Who are the stakeholders and main beneficiaries of your passion? Go to them, listen, learn, love and take notes. The closer you can get to moving the pendulum from “them” to “us” through spatial presence and proximity, the better chance you’ll have in actually developing ideas that work.

That said, there are definitely times to move away to reflect upon the environment you hope to serve. Spatial distance can actually bring clarity to concepts. We all need regular time within as well as outside. Proximity and distance are both your greatest assets and hindrances to formulating ideas. Recent TV shows like Undercover Boss have validated this principle even within the context of a leader’s own company or organization. If you want to create or develop ideas, stay close to the people the ideas will benefit and work in the environment where the idea making will happen.

Idea-Shaping Principle No. 4
Writing it down gives perspective.

We’re a heavily driven verbal community. Before you go tell someone about your brainstorm, put it on paper. Be careful to not just take it from mind to mouth. Writing it down forces you to organize your thoughts and provides a degree of needed perspective.

When I first heard about user-generated events in the technology industry called “unconferences,” I knew that this idea of bringing people together to collaborate and banking on the ethos of the gathering to guarantee quality was transferable to the world of Christian conferences. I immediately typed out my thoughts, then refined and developed this new concept, After a month, I started to share the concept with a close network of friends. The Idea Camp was born.

Writing down my thoughts helped me to not only refine the idea but also anticipate questions people might have. The time I spent processing the idea allowed me to respond to those questions clearly and confidently. The Idea Camp launched with 500 participants at the first event and thousands joining us online. It all began with writing it down.

Idea-Shaping Principle No. 5
A creative process is essential to executing ideas.

“Establish a process,” Baldwin says. “A process forces discipline, and discipline produces creative solutions.”

Whether your process includes a particular location, time and/or team, identifying how and when you best work is key. To help guide the creative process development, Shinabarger suggests asking specific questions: Where is the best place for you to create? When do you best create? What are the distractions you commonly face? How will you break through these distractions?
As a conference organizer, Catalyst’s Lomenick has developed a five-stage process for implementing ideas:

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(1) Brainstorming (All ideas are allowed, and no one can say “No!”)

(2) Validation (Identifying good ideas)

(3) Refining (Making ideas better. In this stage, good ideas can become great.)

(4) Cutting (Determining what to say no to while considering elements like budget and logistics)

(5) Reflection on overall program objectives (Taking the ideas back to the original objectives and seeing if and how they fit) Lomenick’s motto: “Doing a few things great is better than doing a lot well.”

In developing your own process, consider the following areas to help guide you:

• Business Plan A business plan is essential for any endeavor because it provides direction to any vision or passion. Even if you’re starting a ministry, you need a business plan to help determine if this idea is worthy and able to be implemented.

• Sustainability Does your plan have fiscal and human resource legs? In other words, how will you fund or resource your endeavor? From where will you pull the fiscal and human capital? Does your church have concrete commitments from some to help support it? Will people actually invest in it and why?

• Scalability Is your plan scalable? In other words, how much growth potential is realistic in the next one to three years? Can you identify those growth indicators? Will you and your team (if you have one) sacrificially commit to the plan for the next three years to implement the concepts? Is there a cap on how much you can grow as church or organization?

• Simplicity and Uniqueness Is your message simple enough to grasp and communicate to potential partners and supporters? Will people get the unique message of your passion, or will you drown as white noise? How will you make it accessible enough that people can easily get involved?

• Longevity Thinking long-term also provides a broader perspective of what it is you hope to develop, which can minimize unnecessary, short-term frustrations.

• Investment Too many idea makers get sidetracked by “costs.” Instead, think of your costs as investments. Yes, you’ll need to invest funds to make anything move. It’s unrealistic to eliminate money from the equation. Get advice on how to maximize a limited budget.

Idea-Shaping Principle No. 6
Questions and improved strategy come up throughout the process.

Idea makers tenaciously assess their ideas and invite others to do the same. Great ideas require careful questioning for development and implementation. Great questions while working toward a goal often lead to more intentional strategy—note I said “while working.” Some of the best questions arise within the context of moving forward. Don’t expect to have all the necessary questions or answers prior to working on an idea.

Idea-Shaping Principle No. 7
Your ideas can become reality.

Although I can’t give you any “magical” steps for idea making, do something today to move your ideas forward. The same God who designed us with unique dreams and passion is more than able and willing to help us develop a working process for creative implementation.

Known as both a creator and executor of ideas, Charles Lee is the founder of Ideation, a Los Angeles-based consultancy specializing in branding, marketing, social media and event development. He is also a founding member of JustOne, committed to addressing issues of poverty, orphans and slavery and the creator of several grassroots efforts, including the Idea Camp, Ideation Conference and the Freeze Project.