Indie Game Dev Tip #10 – Separate Ideas And Execution
Today, we’re going to talk about something that is really awesome when it comes to creativity, when it comes to generating ideas, when and it comes to getting shit done. Before I knew this stuff, this seriously used to hold me back in so many different ways: it used to stop me from being creative; it used to limit my idea generation. That used to make people hate me in a lot of different ways too, and it really made me, all-around, the annoying asshole. When I first started in freelance, I had this concept that ideas and execution are the same thing.
When I would work with clients, they’d be like, “Hey, what if we tried this on our website or what if we built this in our app or what if we did this in our software. And my brain would immediately go to the execution of it, and be like, “Oh shit! That’s more work. This guy’s 10 second idea is 10 hours of work.” I would shoot down the idea. It’d be a lot of execution, a lot of work. I would be like this every time a new idea came up and I would look like one of those lazy programmers.
I didn’t want to do some of the work and there were so many things that I left out because I was lazy and I didn’t want to do the work. For example, I would come up with a really cool feature for my game and I’d be like, “Oh that’s going to take a long time so now I want to do something else.” I realized that what was happening over a long period was my brain had interlinked this whole concept of ideas and execution. My creativity to generate ideas was linked to the execution of them and because of that, my brain would constantly shut down every idea my brain came up with. It really limited my creativity.
It made clients think that I’m an asshole because I would always shoot down their ideas. It also made a lot of people hate me because I was that annoying person that would just be like, “No, that idea is dumb.” So when I realized that I was compromising in this way, when I realized that this might actually be affecting not only my ability as a creator but my relationships with people, I knew I had to do something about it.
As an introvert and growing up without a lot of social experience, I wasn’t always this great with people. This ability that I’ve grown over the years to interact with people came a lot from the marketing company as well as a conscious effort to get social experience and interact with the outside world.
I realized that separating the idea from the execution has so many different benefits. The most obvious one is that when you’re generating ideas, people, especially in a group, need to feel comfortable and understand that you are not going to just shit on their idea the second it comes out of their mouth. You have to separate execution from the idea because you have to know that in the creative mode, your goal should not be to create the perfect solution, to create the ultimate idea—your goal should just be to generate as many ideas as possible, as many things as you can possibly think of.
You can worry about the execution later because creative minds shut down when there are barriers, or there are limits, or people stop them in the process. I think this is particularly effective in teams, but also when you’re working on your own. This is important because ideas can get shut down very quickly when you’re thinking about execution, when you’re thinking about how hard it would be to do, or whatever.
If someone came up with the idea for the iPod before there was ever an mp4 player, and they worried about the execution immediately like, “Oh wouldn’t it be cool if we had this big square in our pocket that played all these songs randomly? We could just connect to a computer and it would automatically play all our songs.”
Then they would think about how to do it, they’d be like, “That’s a big job!”, and, “Oh that’s not worth it.” But if you start with generating all the ideas you can and then pick one that you really think would make the best impact for the user or for the player or whatever, and you figure out how to do it later, it’s a lot more effective.
You should divide your ideas into sessions. Personally, that’s what I do. A perfect example would be the YouTube videos that I’m making. When I make these videos, I separate the ideas from the execution.
I sat down one day and wrote down a massive list of video titles that I wanted to make. It took me a couple hours and I listed down hundreds of titles. I found that by sitting down and doing all of it at the same time, not only was I way more creative, I got more shit done. My brain got in the zone and started generating crazy ideas that just kept coming.
I came up with stuff that I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise. I was not constrained by the things that I had to worry about doing, or the research that I might have to do, or the the personal stories that I would have to tell, or whatever it is for the pertaining topic. On the flip side, when I get to the execution side I sit down to make a video, I just pick a title and I go.
I just sit in front of the camera, pick a title, and just I go for it. That is drastically different from how I used to do things. Before, I’d be like, “I need to make a video. What do I do? What would the video be about? What do I do?” It was all just a lot of worrying about how I should approach the idea.
I found it extremely beneficial to separating ideas from execution. In game development, I think this is especially prevalent because there are so many different ideas that you can implement on so many different levels. The execution in a game can get very tricky, especially for programmers. We like to think about the execution, how we’re going to build things, and being creative is not the time for that. When in idea generation mode, it’s not the time for thinking about execution. You need to generate as many ideas as you can because that’s how you’re creative.
Another benefit to separating execution from ideas is that you can focus on creative ways to make the idea work. It’s not as simple as making a YouTube video where I just sit down and talk. Let’s say you came up with idea for really cool mechanic, what you need to do now is figure out how to make that work.
You don’t approach this as whether or not it can work. You figure out how you can make it work, what are the different creative ways that you can execute this idea, and you can list those too. You get in the mode with that as well as come up with solutions that you never knew were possible because your brain is engulfed in the execution. It’s engulfed in doing a thing and making this thing happen versus coming up with what should have happened.
When you mix in the idea with the execution, things get tricky. Things can get messy. You tend to shoot down ideas that would have been awesome because you’re worried about the execution of it. You shut it down and that idea could have been awesome, it could have been an epic game, it could have been an epic mechanic, it could have been an epic art style, whatever it is.
When you switch and go into execution mode, you go, “Okay now I’m in the figuring out mode.” You start with what and then you figure out how. You have to separate them though because; at least in my life personally, it’s been such a massive change in the way that I create. I could do everything in bulk now rather than sit down and figure out what the game is, figure out and build it all the way through. It gets so messy and clunky, and turns into a brain dump of a game.
It’s really better if I have a bunch of ideas, pick one, and figure out a bunch of ways to execute it. It’s just such a cleaner way to work and allows my brain to think about things. It’s a lot more effective way to come up with more ideas so you create more.
That is my message for you today, separate ideas from execution because it will help your brain work better when you’re developing. If you have any comments on this, please leave them below, I’d love to hear from you.