How to Pick Your Best Idea and Leave FOMO Behind
Attention spans are down to about eight seconds, per Microsoft. We spend so much time bouncing from smartphone app to email to phone call that we rarely have a chance to step back and focus on one thing at a time.
Unfortunately, that saturation has seeped into our professional lives. With new industries and opportunities popping up regularly, many entrepreneurs feel paralyzed by choices. How can anyone pick one niche or industry when the possibilities seem to expand every hour?
As difficult as it might be, learning to focus is one of the most important parts of entrepreneurial success. Businesses that fail to define a market and try to please everyone usually end up pleasing no one and closing shop. Today’s founders can’t afford to leap at every interesting venture. To establish and grow successful companies, entrepreneurs need to learn to overcome FOMO and commit to a single scalable idea.
What makes founder FOMO so dangerous
Steve Jobs put it best: “People think focus means saying 'yes' to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying 'no' to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”
Jobs have helped Apple get its hooks in several different verticals, but it didn’t start out that way. When the company began, it didn’t even sell computers -- just motherboards. Apple had to do one thing well before it could add things like monitors and keyboards.
The successful disruption that modern entrepreneurs aspire to create doesn't arise from overnight industry dominance. On the contrary, many of the big players in recent years -- Instagram, for example -- specialized in one area and gained popularity by doing that one thing better than anyone else. The good idea comes first; the pursuit of all other goals comes later.
The lesson is to pick the best idea and run with it. Finding that good idea, however, is easier said than done. How does a founder know when one idea is worth ignoring all other possibilities? Follow this evaluation process to determine the value of an idea and shut out the noise to see that idea to fruition:
1. Take a moment to breathe.
Step away from the rush of startup life for a day or two and relax. Plenty of industries remain ripe for disruption, and they won’t all disappear if you take a long weekend to go hiking or read a book.
Use this time away from the office to escape from the noise. Don’t listen to an industry podcast, email potential co-founders about new ideas or spend your mornings catching up on the latest craze. Focus at work starts at home. Once you feel like you’re thinking clearly, you can move on to the next step.
2. When your mind wanders, follow it.
When you don’t have to think about how to secure funding or what your competitors are doing, where does your mind go? What problems are you most passionate about solving? By practicing a bit of mindfulness to see where your thoughts go, you can identify the things that capture your passion and start forming a plan about what you’d like your company to accomplish.
3. Write down a laser-focused plan.
After you take some time to think about your passion, sit down with a pen and paper to write down what you want to do about it. According to Harvard Business Review, entrepreneurs who write down their plans six to 12 months ahead of time are more likely to realize their goals than people who wing it.
Get as specific as possible about the problem you want to solve. Who experiences the problem? How much does it impact their lives? You should conduct user research to validate your product-market fit before you go too far, but for now, figure out what you want to do and who would benefit from your solution.
4. Start saying 'no.'
With a plan in place and underway, distractions will inevitably try to knock you off your game. Those distractions might come in the form of a potentially big client in another industry or an investor who wants to change the direction of the company. When that happens, remember that you can either change direction or pursue the vision you defined in the previous step -- not both. If you chase two audiences, you'll end up wishing you had turned one down before it was too late.
5. Get tenacious about your goal.
You have a goal and are turning down other opportunities to pursue that goal, so don’t get halfhearted in your pursuit of success. Do everything you can to make your one big dream a reality. Find funding from likeminded investors, research the competition and aggressively pursue the development of your solution. Conduct market research in your target group, and adjust your approach if necessary. Remember, the problem you solve (not your original solution) is the key to your growth.
Founders of thriving companies don’t let distractions knock them off course. If you want to take a company from concept to industry titan, start with one great idea -- and do whatever it takes to make that idea a reality. Others will succeed and fail around you as you chase your goal, but if you maintain your focus, you will eventually reap the rewards.