Feeling Stuck? Here’s How to Finish What You Were Made to Do With The IDEA System

People talk about the reality distortion field that Steve Jobs had. He said things were possible when no one else believed him. Sara Blakely—you know how many times she was turned down for funding for Spanx? Something like 50 venture capital meetings. Everyone said no. And when it got to be so many people saying no, she started doing her own seams, in her own sewing machine. Finding vendors that would just do exactly what she asked.

Behind Every Successful Person Is an IDEA

I have deconstructed my own successes and deconstructed the successes of hundreds of other people on my podcast over ten or twelve thousand hours of learning, and I’ve heard a lot of stories about what it takes to be successful. And I can confidently say that every person that’s been successful has followed the following path. It’s a very simple acronym called IDEA.

The IDEA Breakdown

Here’s how the system works:

  • I = Imagine what’s possible
  • D = Design a system that can get you there
  • E = Execute that system
  • A = Amplify the results

So let’s break that down. We can do this with any project. For example, let’s say you want to create a notebook.

First, you think about it, or imagine it, right? This is a simple, but powerful concept. There are constraints, and this cost this much, and it’s on this paper.

And then you design the path to get there, and maybe you sit down on the computer and use this program. You plan on sending it to the printer.

Then you execute that plan.

And then how does it get everywhere? You amplify by sharing it with your community and get it in everybody’s hands.

The same exact pattern is true for every single thing you see in the world. Everything in this room was designed by nobody smarter or better than you. Everything.

Everything in this room was designed by nobody smarter or better than you. Everything.

How I Used the IDEA System to Publish Two Books

One of my central beliefs is that creativity is as important to our well-being as nutrition and exercise. My friend Ray Reynolds says that “Creativity is not just nice to have. If you don’t get it out of you, it gets toxic.” You can get your creativity out in a productive way using IDEA. I did it with a book called The Seattle One Hundred. And then I did it with my new book Creative Calling.

First, I Imagined

I wanted to connect with my community and make something. I had a list of friends and people I could work with, and I would review it every day or week. One day, about six months into this process of trying to figure this out, it hit me it wasn’t somebody on the list; the project was the list. I could make it into a big coffee table book.

I thought, what if I can get a book deal and then bring in charity to go into it. Give away proceeds that are made from the book, or the book advance, and give it to the Arts Foundation, and help other arts? So I had this big, very audacious goal. But I imagined something that was, to me, at that time, crazy. Who’s going to want to do a 20×20, 300-page art book on Seattle? The total possible copies that you could sell couldn’t be that many. But that was my dream.

Then, I Designed a System and Executed Against It

It took me two and a half years of photographing people in the city, but I ended up shooting more than a hundred new folks. I photographed somebody every week. Scientists and break dancers, restaurateurs … I had no idea that would be such a deep project.

But you know what I didn’t care. I had a big hairy dream, and I imagined something, and this was part of my now designing a plan to get there. For three years, I retouched all the photos, found a publisher, designed this plan, and then I executed against it.

Next, I Amplified

When it came time to publish, I wondered, who can market this book? How about the most interesting and influential people in the city? That was my community. I had spent between two and six hours with these people. I made them look great, I noticed there was a connection that we’d made; this was a community.

With my community’s help, we did it and ended up donating a ton of money to charity.

This system creates results. I can’t say the results are always going to be successful, culturally speaking, but I do know that this system is the only way that anything gets made in the world, consistently.

Use IDEA—And Celebrate Getting Started

Anne Lamott writes, “the only way I can create a great book is to write really shitty first drafts.”

Every creative process happens this way using IDEA, and it’s also important to remember to celebrate your first draft of your ideas. You gotta celebrate all that stuff. Every failure is a stepping stone to success.

Everybody wants to see their ideas take off and for their business to be big tomorrow. But if your business gets big tomorrow, you’re going to break it. Because you’re not going to know what to do. All this stuff is for a reason. It’s not on accident that this happens.

So think about the things you have pinned on your board, your ideas that are in your head. You can have a huge dream, or you can have a small dream. Then remember this process of imagining something and designing it, of executing it, and amplifying it.

p.s. I really, really, really want to see you make the things that you were put in this world to make.

Chase Jarvis

Chase Jarvis is an award-winning artist, entrepreneur, and one of the most influential photographers of the past decade.

He has created campaigns for Apple, Nike, Red Bull and others, was a contributor to the Pulitzer-winning New York Times story Snowfall, and earned an Emmy nomination for his documentary Portrait of a City. He also created Best Camera–the first photo app to share images to social networks, and is the Founder of CreativeLive, where more than 10 million students learn photography, video, design, music and business from the world’s top creators and entrepreneurs.

He’s a keynote speaker, an advisor to Fortune 100 brands, and has been a guest at the Obama White House, the United Nations, the Library of Congress, 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, and the DIFC in Dubai.

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