Sharing ideas with others is one of my favorite things to do. There’s nothing quite like coming up with something clever and sharing it with a group of people that acknowledge the cleverness, and sometimes even build on it. It can be exciting, motivating, and just all around fun.
But what if sharing ideas might be a bad thing? What if actually sharing your ideas with others makes you much less likely to execute and create? What if the very act of communicating your ideas and intentions can somehow kill your motivation to get them done?
I struggled with this for a long time. Here’s my story.
I was an idea machine
My brain was like a giant factory with a massive distribution center built in. Ideas were my product. No matter who I was with or what I was doing, I LOVED sharing ideas. It didn’t matter what the idea was about either, all that mattered was the cleverness of the idea. In fact, the more I shared and got the head nods and the approval from other people, the more I wanted to share.
My life has always been fragmented socially. I’ve always had multiple circles that I hung around in that wouldn’t necessarily interact with each other. I’d hang out with the tech startup guys at my office, the game developers I knew online, the fellow music enthusiasts when I was in the mood, and the competitive card game dudes on the weekends. And I found that my idea machine was in full swing no matter where I was or who I was with, I just had a knack for ideas.
But after a while, something odd started happening. I thought that sharing and communicating ideas helped me have intellectual conversations and connect with people.
But pumping out ideas has it’s downside
I was so set on sharing ideas, I didn’t consider how others saw them. At first it was subtle. People would just bring things up that I thought of a while back.
“Hey Tim, what happened to that idea you had for that procedurally generated multiplayer game?”
I never got anywhere with that. I think I made like a basic version of the procedural generation, but never got the multiplayer stuff working. That was just one of a thousand ideas I had, why was this one coming up?
Turns out people remember ideas that they like. And when you’re a builder of things like I am, people also tend to take ideas as intention. And so, after a while with no execution, people stopped taking me seriously. Could I really blame them though? I mean these guys aren’t with me 24/7, all they see is a dude that always has an idea and never actually does anything. You repeat that process a dozen times and I don’t blame them.
Although I didn’t fully realize what was going on in that moment, I got the vibe that this might not be the best approach to life. And even though I liked coming up with and sharing ideas, it might actually be adversely affecting my execution.
Sometimes, sharing ideas with people can actually hurt you
I did some research. I couldn’t be the only one that did this. Ideas are a core part of the human experience, right? So why doesnt sharing MORE of them make me smarter, faster, stronger? I mean everyone had ideas, but if I had more of them, why couldn’t I share more of them?
Well, in one of my late night Google searches, I found a dude by the name of Peter Gollwitzer, and NYU psychology professor that did a series of tests on intentions. In his research article, “When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?“, he found that anyone that kept their intentions private were far more likely to carry through with them than those that shared their intentions. And based on some of the interaction sI had had, it seemed like people were taking my ideas as intentions.
And sure some of my ideas I intended to create. A lot of them were just ideas though. Everyone has a ton of them. But I started reading back in my journal, looking specifically for any situations possibly related to Peter’s findings. And I found a ton.
I went through my project folder, and I realized the projects I shared the ideas for never really got anywhere. Some got farther than others, but in general, it turns out that I had less motivation to even get to the prototype phase when I shared them with other people. I started analyzing why this was, and I came up with 3 different reasons.
Reason #1 – Sometimes people suck.
Lets just get the most obvious and upfront reason out of the way. Sometimes, people are assholes. And sometimes I would share stuff with people and they would shit on my dreams.
And I’ve always been a rebel, so the way this affects me might be a little different than how it affects you…but for me if someone were to say straight up “Tim, that’s a dumb idea, you should just quit dude, you can never make that work.”
My first response would be “Fuck you dude, watch me.” And that would motivate the shit out of me.
BUTTT…It’s the more passive aggressive comments or the subtle things that get to me. For example, if I were to show my sister something and she would just be like “Oh. That’s nice.” Like I can tell she doesnt think its a good idea, but she wont tell me. Maybe she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, maybe she doesn’t want to come off as unsupportive, not sure. But I have a few friends like that too, and it always irks me. It makes me not want to continue because I feel like I can never win there.
Now I know my motivation to make games and stuff should be internal, and it is for the most part. But denying that the opinions of the people you care about matter is a good way to never get anywhere. Even though I wish that I didn’t care about the opinions of those close to me, I do. So this stuff affects me.
I also know quite a few people that rely far too much on this external approval, and if their significant other, brother, mother, or friends don’t approve of their goals or their ideas, they are much more likely to quit. That sucks man.
Reason #2 – The illusion of progress.
This one was one of the bigger things that really affected how I did things without knowing. I realized that if I told someone about an idea I had, and they liked it, my brain would count that as progress. I would actually feel like I made progress on a project simply by sharing the idea of it.
This, for me, was very dangerous.
Because sharing an idea isn’t really useful. It doesn’t get you anywhere. It literally has no actual positive effect at all, and it does not move you forward whatsoever. But when you do it, it is easy for your brain to mistake that as actually moving the needle a tiny bit and reaching a goal or milestone.
You have to watch out for this because feeling like you’ve made progress when you haven’t can actually prevent you from starting the project in the first place.
Reason #3 – The false congratulations.
Similar to the illusion of progress, the false congratulations is equally as damaging to your motivation. The false congratulations is something that you get when people like your idea and they pat you on the back for coming up with it.
This one is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing, because it can sneak up on you. If you’re like me and you would walk 100 miles for someone just because they were thankful and appreciative, this can be particularly damaging. I know for me I was addicted to the pat on the back that came from other people from doing a good job. And it turns out, a great idea is the easiest and fastest way to get that pat on the back.
But because of this, telling people about your next big game idea can actually rob you of the motivation to make it.
For me, people telling me they love my project was the goal for a long time. And if I can hit that goal before I even started, why do all the hard work?
Of course, being that motivated by the approval of others is never a healthy thing. Motivation should be internal and you should never need the approval of others to make something you want to make. But me pretending like that didn’t affect my decisions would just be lying. Of course I want people to like me and like my stuff. And of course it hurts my feelings when my stuff gets shit on. But it gets easier to deal with the more you deal with it.
For me, being in that mode of wanting the acceptance of others, sharing ideas was dangerous for me because it would drastically reduce my motivation to actually make that idea a reality. So if the congratulations from others is motivating to you, hack your brain and save that congratulations for the completion of the actual project, not the idea.
Sharing ideas and goals can actually become an addiction
After going through my journal and realizing all of the ideas I had had, and everything I’ve shared…and then looking back at my progress of what I actually completed, it was clear I was addicted. Telling someone an idea I had was the easiest way to feel smart and accomplished, and it was the fastest way to make fake progress and be pat on the back by others. And I found that I was actually addicted to the way this made me feel.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but my ideas were the proof to myself that I was smart. And for a long time I had such low self-esteem and self-worth that I would constantly throw out ideas as a way of being accepted socially. And I was addicted to it.
And I was so addicted to sharing ideas, that I forgot about what was important: making progress. I realized that to actually make progress, the idea wasn’t the thing that I should share.
Instead of sharing your ideas, share your progress
It took me a long time to figure out how to remedy this in my own head. I knew I was addicted to sharing ideas because it made me feel good. And I knew that sharing ideas didn’t actually get me anywhere. So how do you fix it? What do you do instead that’s more productive? Well I don’t know what the right answer is, but I can tell you what I did.
I started to share the things I did instead. No more sharing ideas, no more sharing things I planned on doing. I would share my progress on one idea, rather than share new ideas.
This seemed to work super well for me, for a few different reasons:
- It made me seem more accomplished to the public. I noticed that people would start to make comments like “Dude I wish I could do that”, something I never got before. Prior to this, people saw me as just a talker and not a doer. But by sharing progress, they have to see you as a doer. Because you’re literally sharing what you’ve done.
- It made people respect me more as a creator. I saw this in so many circles, and even on the internet. People would actually tell me that they respected me because of what I’d achieved. I didn’t feel any more accomplished, but I was simple sharing my accomplishments versus my ideas, and that made all the difference.
- It held me accountable to keep going. When I would share my progress on something, I would feel accountable all of a sudden. I felt like I had to finish it because people were watching, and they would think I was a quitter if I didn’t finish. This kept me going way past the point I might have quit.
- It helped me gather actual constructive user feedback and iterate. When I would share ideas, the feedback I got would never really be that helpful because what I was imagining and what they were imagining would always be 2 different things. If however, we were both looking at the same prototype, the feedback always got considerably more valuable and constructive. The conversation moves from “how can I make it?” (which is always subjective) to “how can I improve it?” (which is always more concrete).
- More people would help, because they would know how to help. So this is something I never would have guessed…but by sharing so many different ideas for games, companies, startups, etc it was confusing people. They didn’t know how they could help me, who they could introduce me to, or what I was after. When I starting sharing progress on a singular project people saw me as “That guy that’s making a game about love” or “That guy from Game Dev Underground” and suddenly, they knew how to help me. They would introduce me to similar people, or people that had complementing skillsets that wanted to get involved.
Conclusion: Sharing goals and ideas can be a bad thing
I never in a million years thought I might be addicted to sharing ideas. And I never thought that sharing an idea might actually kill my motivation to turn that idea into a reality. But you live and you learn. There a ton of reasons why people might actually hurt your chances of succeeding once you share things with them. They may be mean, you may feel accomplished, or you may just get that pat on the back you’ve been looking for and have no emotional need to actually complete the project any more.
Sharing ideas, while a ton of fun in the right space, can actually be a bad thing. And despite how harmless it sounds, it can actually curb your motivation to finish things. Instead, sharing your progress on your ideas is always a better option than sharing ideas themselves. So get out there and share some progress!