M aybe you have done this:

You have an idea: a nascent idea that lights you up and feels like it could turn into something big. Maybe put-you-on-the-map big, or at least stretch-beyond-your-comfort-zone big.

You get excited. You allow yourself to daydream a bit, about how it might evolve, what impact it could have… the possibilities.

And then The Voice of Reason pipes up, and it says: Hmmm… I bet someone else already thought of this. Or, Isn’t this a little bit like this thingie over here that so-and-so made? Or, Who are you to do such a thing? You need help.

You’re not so easily swayed, though. You still think your idea’s pretty good. Really exciting, in fact. So you decide that maybe you can appease The Voice of Reason (that’s not its real name, you know) by doing a bit of research.

Research probably looks something like this:

  • You Google it. Ah… it turns out there are several people working on similar ideas. Better go check them out.
  • You talk to friends and colleagues. They don’t totally get it, but they try to be encouraging.
  • You brainstorm all the other solutions people have come up with to try and address the problem you want to solve. Turns out there are rather a lot of them.

The results of your research are:

  • Uh-oh. Everyone’s way ahead of me. I’ve got competition, and they have a head start.
  • Hmm… if they don’t instantly get it, maybe it’s not such a juicy problem after all. And if I can’t get my closest friends excited, how the hell am I going to convince strangers to get on board?
  • There are so many solutions already out there. Bet my solution has already been tried and came up short. 

Research isn’t your enemy, but it ain’t your friend, either. 

Here’s why: When most of us do this particular kind of research, we aren’t being methodical or analytical: we’re taking a deep dive into the rivers of comparison and resistance. We think we’re doing due diligence, but we’re really taking our tender, new idea and casting it into a snake pit of our own doubts and fears.

(I’m sharing all this, by the way, because I’ve done it myself. There’s a lot of personal experience in here, along with observations of people I’ve coached and mentored.)

When your dream is close to your heart, you must carry it gently as you look at what others are up to. I won’t tell you not to do the research, but I urge you to remember a few things.

  • Competition won’t kill a good idea. Lots of successful ideas have come on the heels of less successful predecessors. Facebook, for instance, was late to the social-networking party. First does not equal best. And starting “late” is much, much better than never starting at all.
  • Give yourself permission to incubate your idea. Most good ideas don’t spring forth from their creator’s heads fully formed. You might not be able to explain it articulately to anyone for a while. That doesn’t mean your idea is worthless. Give it time.
  • No one else has your special mojo formula. If someone else tried something you’d like to try, and it didn’t work out – try your version anyway. Their failure isn’t a sign you shouldn’t begin. Here’s how I proceed when I see a trail marked with others’ missteps: I ask, “What’s the smallest, lowest-risk version of this I can try?” Think Minimum Viable Product: build something small, validate that it has traction, and learn from your customers.
  • You will tread your own path. It’s natural to look around for a well-marked path to follow when you’re entering new territory. We look for examples, gurus, leaders to follow–because they appear to know the way. Don’t be fooled; all they know for sure is the way that worked for them. Did that CEO mortgage his house to fund his company’s growth? That doesn’t mean you need a mortgage (or the stomach to risk one) to get there. Did that writer blog every day for three years before inking a book deal? Doesn’t mean you have to. Listen for the deeper truths: They committed. They showed up. They trusted themselves. Ahhh… much better. And truer, too.
  • The more you achieve, the bigger you’ll dream. The bigger you dream, the more resistance you’ll feel. This is where impostor syndrome comes into play. As you become more successful, you will hit new lows of self-doubt. High-achieving people, in my experience, are among the most afflicted by impostor syndrome. (You’d think it would be the opposite, but no.) You get to a place you wanted to be, and you ask yourself, a la David Byrne, “How did I get here?” You think, “Someone’s gonna figure out I’m not really as clever as they expect me to be.” And you think, “Who am I to be this successful, to dream this big, to dare this greatly?” Don’t let your inner critic (that’s The Voice of Reason’s true identity, by the way) get the better of you. (Here are some practical tips to quiet it down.)
  • Be aware that you’re comparing your not-yet-fully-formed idea to someone else’s full-blown product. This is a bit like bawling out a baby for not having a job. A baby’s job is to learn and grow. Your idea’s job is to learn and grow, too.

Believe me when I say that you are not alone in doing this. Some of the most amazingly successful, brilliant, creative, high-achieving people I know face the same challenge. It’s what Steven Pressfield calls “resistance,” and it’s up to us to overcome it–and help each other climb over the barriers it erects.

Don’t let your comparison–your fears, disguised as The Voice of Reason–stop your nascent dream from unfolding. Let them remind you, instead, that you’re on exactly the right track.

“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

“Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

If this post spoke to you, I invite you to join me and the amazing Tanya Geisler for a deeper exploration of the compulsion to compare. Check out what we’ve got up our sleeves–including a free workbook for exploring your relationship to comparison–over here on the Worship Wisely page.

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2 Responses to “The Wrong Kind of Research: Stop Throwing Your Dreams Into the Deep End” Subscribe

  1. Ducky 12 Dec 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    Ah, you really hit me in the gut with this one, Lauren.

    Since the inception of my business idea I’ve played out the research, dreaming, planning, and, for me, simply waiting for someone more brilliant to do it instead cycle over and over and over.

    But instead of fading away, my idea keeps getting bigger and more ambitious and no one has stepped up to do it instead so I guess if I want to see it I’ll have to do it myself.

    Years ago, when dealing with some intense body image issues a friend of mine introduced me to Buttcake (Inner Critic, Resistance, Voice of Reason). She said that the only proper response to Buttcake is “Fuck you, Buttcake!” followed by a positive statement why you/your idea/whatever really is awesome or beautiful or smart…etc. This technique helped me learn to love and believe in myself. But I never thought about Buttcake in relation to my business dreams. At least I know where to start this time – a healthy eff you until Buttcake doesn’t have anything left to say anymore.

  2. Jeremy Lewis 8 Jan 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    This is an excellent piece. It really spoke to me as I’m considering a new role that is dialling up my ‘inner critic’ just now. Interview tomorrow so time to dial it back down and dream bigger… Thanks!

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