Recognize the Signs of Idea Intoxication

Mike Sobol Innovation Mindset 1 Comment

Ideas are fun. Fun to think up, fun to talk about. Ideas make you feel smart– like you have special insights. The most attractive new ideas are secrets the rest of the world just doesn’t know yet. It’s a real buzz to think you’re onto something, and as an entrepreneur, I can say without a doubt I love that feeling.

That feeling. What is it?

Idea Intoxication, Defined

To be intoxicated with the warm glow of your new idea is to be in the grip of a “positive thought pattern”– a persistent mindset that your idea will work no matter what.

In the best case, that thought pattern is the prime mover you need to accept the long odds of success and pursue your idea with focused determination. In a certain way, you have to be crazy to try to turn a new idea into a profitable company or product line. You are, of course, attempting something that is not normal, and in your specific case, it has never been done before. Many people won’t “get it,” and that’s perfectly OK. You need some mental fortitude to resist the pull back to the status quo. You need to be comfortable being unreasonable.

In the worst case, however, that positive thought pattern is more like a mania, blinding you to the risks inherent in your endeavor until– surprise!— you’re somehow out of time and money and your startup fails. It’s a sneaky problem because, frankly, we don’t tend to worry about driven people who are working hard toward a vision. We only worry about people caught in negative thought patterns who persistently feel bad– depressed, anxious, ineffectual–feelings that only appear in the entrepreneur’s mind after lots of effort yields little result and hope fades.

Here’s the thing: negative thought patterns don’t map to reality any better or worse than positive thought patterns do. You can be overly pessimistic and completely wrong. You can also be overly optimistic and just as wrong. But no one stuck in a positive thought pattern seeks help. They are less likely to want to change because they feel good and they seem to know what they’re doing. That’s the entire problem.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Idea Intoxication

You should be optimistic. You should be passionate about your vision. You may even have an alternate view of reality which is not a weakness, but rather the very reason you will be successful. Those characteristics are necessary to pursue worthwhile innovations. If, however, you are certain you already have the answer, and you just need to make it happen, well, you just might suffer from idea intoxication.

Willful Ignorance

Have you spoken to any potential customers today? Learned about what’s worked in your market niche and what hasn’t? Do you know about similar business models? What about your key performance indicators that help you track progress toward goals (you do have specific goals, right)?

Your idea is actually a series of assumptions about customers, their needs and decision-making, your technology, the market, and so on. Until you seek to prove (or disprove) those assumptions, you’re just kicking the can down the road, hoping that by avoiding facts they will somehow play out in your favor. Arguing about whether your assumptions are true is not the same as proving they are.

There is a science to innovation. Steering clear of learning might feel good now, but it’s going to hurt a lot more later.

Tunnel Vision

Focus is crucial. But, as above, if you aren’t learning and adapting along the way, your idea is slowly dying. While you may have decided a priori that there is one potential outcome and you are building it and it will be awesome whenever you finally launch it (six months from now? a year? two years?), what are the chances that single outcome will be successful just like you imagine it to be?

How might customer preferences or needs change? Are the features you’re building right now the most important ones? What about your go-to-market strategy? Your monetization strategy?

These are important questions. Questions that you can ignore from the safety of your long dark tunnel. (Don’t bother me, I’m coding!) Let’s take a different tack, however. Suppose your potential routes to success were shorter, or different than you imagined. And the one tunnel you picked is actually the least promising of the opportunities available to you? Get out of the tunnel and get into your market. Be open to possibility.

Magical Thinking

Something happens when you spend a lot of time with your own idea; you start to impart it with magical qualities. You believe that when you launch it, people will buy it. They just will. And because they’ll love it, it’ll be a viral hit. And even though using it may require a significant behavior change, that’s OK, normal rules of user adoption don’t apply to this idea because it’s that good.

Tell me about your tactics. Tell me about how you’ll find your first customer, and how you’ll find more. Tell me about your costs, who you need to hire and when. See, tactics are hard. They don’t materialize because you released a product. Having an idea does not automatically make you an effective CEO, or COO or VP of Sales. You have to put in the work. Results are not magic.


So listen. We are not going to be your cheerleaders. We are not going to tell you things that aren’t true. We are going to do our damnedest to help you test new ideas, make decisions and develop plans based on evidence. We think you deserve that.

If you want to bring something of value into the world, that’s how it will happen– by confronting reality as quickly and clear-eyed as you can.

Here are Venture Hall, we believe in being kind, not nice. We seek out facts early and often, and we encourage every entrepreneur to do the same. We are not here to make your one big idea work. We are here to make you successful as an innovator.

You don’t have to want to hear the truth; idea intoxication is a happy place, after all. But until you are ready to relentlessly learn and adapt according to evidence– not merely coddle an idea– you aren’t ready to become a real innovator, or entrepreneur.

Friends don’t let friends waste time on bad ideas.

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