Originally published with the Forbes Coaches Council February 21, 2018.
Many of us have big ideas: a new business, a new product, a new initiative at work. But taking that big idea from a dream into reality isn’t always easy — and it’s easy to feel intimidated by the process. All too often, we shelve our dreams because making that leap seems impossible.
But just as persuasive communication (far from being the inborn talent we are sometimes told it is) can be broken into a set of specific, actionable skills, nurturing your big idea can be broken down into phases that make translating your inspiration into action much more manageable. With this approach, you can not only feel more in control, but you also make success more likely.
Fostering your own creativity and pursuing innovation require discipline, engagement, preparation and some dumb luck (good timing, the lightning bolt of inspiration, or perhaps an introduction to the correct person). It calls for introspection. But it also requires the same fundamental skills as successful persuasion: an understanding of your audience and the context in which you will launch the idea. What kind of idea will resonate? What story do you want to tell?
Here, the story I want to tell is that of my company. In doing so, I hope you can connect to my experience as a way of understanding your own and understanding how you can break down the process of turning an idea into a reality.
The Latimer Group began with a hike in the Grand Canyon. I’d been working in financial services for five years, and I knew I wanted a change. I took a few months off to travel with my new wife, Emily. We drove all across the country, camping and hiking in 15 national parks and having many, many conversations about the future. On that particular morning, as we were enjoying the quarter-light and then the half-light of a sunrise in the Grand Canyon, Emily made the comment that changed the course of our lives together. “Dean, you’ve always been good at public speaking and you love to coach,” she said. “Why don’t you just do that … coach people on their communication?”
I knew immediately: That was exactly what I wanted to do. I had the idea, but what next? How would I find clients? What did people really need from a communication coach? How could I start my own company? What needs to happen?
These are the questions and doubts that can form a seemingly impenetrable roadblock. But I realized that I needed to focus first on the immediate first steps.
So, phase one: Assess the idea. What specific skills do you need to develop or questions do you need to ask to lay the groundwork for success? What do I need to know that I do not know right now? Who can I speak to who can guide me?
In my case, I spent a year working at a small management consulting group to gain experience in the field. I found a strong mentor there, worked on several client engagements, learned how executive coaching was done and had a front row seat to see how to run a consulting business. I learned what clients might need from a coach, what sort of clients were out there and how I could reach them.
After that year, I launched The Latimer Group. (I didn’t want to align the brand of the company with me as an individual, so I chose to name it after a lighthouse near where I grew up.) I was the only employee, and I worked out of my home. My one and only course was called “Presentation skills training,” and it addressed all the usual suspects of communication in a business setting: how to use body language effectively, put together a strong slide deck, how to project confidence. Important skills, but I was still trying to figure out what would eventually set The Latimer Group apart. I had confidence that I understood the field and the marketplace and that there was a need out there that I could fill.
So I continued to assess, ask lots of questions, talk to lots of people and build my skills and my network. The assessment phase continued through the first few years of The Latimer Group because even as I built up my business, I constantly had to figure out what opportunities and challenges would come next. With patience, curiosity and openness to evolution, I could continue to stay true to my vision while adapting to the needs of reality.
Whether your idea is a new business or a new product or a new work initiative, don’t rush the assessment phase. Ask questions, and listen carefully to the answers. Interrogate the validity of your idea. Understand what value it might have to others. Develop your situational awareness. Consider who will be involved, and when.
Just as you need to understand your audience when you set out to make a persuasive case, you have to understand the context in which you launch your idea. Taking the time to assess — to figure out not only the basics but also what sets you apart — lets you move on confidently to making your dream a success.