Getting Ahead

3 Steps to Making Your Big Ideas Actually Happen

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You’re brimming with brilliant ideas for things your company could be doing better. But, more often than not, they end up staying just that—ideas. You have the necessary inspiration, but you can never seem to actually take action.

Maybe you’re nervous about pitching your thoughts to your boss and colleagues. Or, perhaps you can’t quite figure out how to move them forward in a large organization. So, you freeze. All of your genius ideas simply sit unused in the dusty corners of your notebook.

But your thoughts deserve more than that! Pursuing them could benefit your company and your career. Try the tips below to get those previously untapped ideas closer to actually happening.

1. Get the Idea Out of Your Head

The first step is getting your idea out of the confines of your brain. Maybe you’ve already done this in the aforementioned notebook, but now it’s time to get it into a form that you can easily share with others. Basically, it’s time to create a prototype.

That’s right—a prototype isn’t just for inventors making physical products. It can take many different forms based on what your idea is. Perhaps it’s a document outlining updates to an outdated process. Maybe it’s a piece of software that roughly demos an internal system you want to build. Or, perhaps it’s a model you build out of clay and paperclips that shows the product improvements you imagine.

Whatever you build remember that it probably won’t—and in fact shouldn’t—be a polished final product. If you spend too much time trying to make this early version amazing, you may never get to the next step. “Remember the idea isn’t to be perfect or pretty, but to build something that demonstrates what you have in mind,” explains Candice Churchwell, a Skills Pivot Coach at AT&T. Make it simple but clear so that other people you’re showing it to can get excited about the potential rather than caught up in the details.

The added benefit of starting to make your idea something real is that it will help you find gaps in it that you can work through before you show it to many others. Speaking of which…

2. Bring Others to the Table

As nerve-wracking as it might be, involving people in the development stage can be a huge benefit—both to you, and ultimately your idea. By gathering some varying opinions early on, you’ll be able to make adjustments that will make your idea seem even stronger when you bring it to decision-makers. Often, two brains (or three, or four) really are better than one.

So pick people who you trust—whether that’s your work bestie, a colleague you’ve worked closely with, or even your boss if you have a close relationship—and share this early version of with them. Ask tough questions, even if it scares you, and be open to what they say. Would this idea actually be helpful? Does it solve a business need? Is there anything you could change to make it stronger? This will prompt those people to share some particularly helpful criticisms, without worrying about overstepping their bounds.

Then, where you think it makes sense, incorporate those thoughts into your draft. By involving others in this part of your process, you’ve already instantly gained more support and encouragement as you push your idea into a reality. Next, it’s time to make a plan for how.

3. Outline a Path to Reality

Once you feel like your idea is in a solid place—again, not a perfect one, but a well-thought-out one—it’s time to figure out the right way to get it in front of the people who can help you make it happen.

At a small organization, this may just mean sitting down with your boss or department head to walk through your thoughts. At a larger company, there are probably more structured opportunities. For example, AT&T has created the ultimate suggestion box—known as The Innovation Pipeline—which encourages people from across the company to share their potentially game-changing ideas.

Make Your Big Ideas Happen With a Job at AT&T

If you’re not sure of the right process, turn back to the folks who helped you in the development phase to see if they have advice for the best way forward. And, when you do present your idea, make sure to come with a strong pitch, laying out the problem you’re solving, your proposed solution, what you think it would take to get there, and what you need help on.

At this point? Best case scenario, the higher-ups will think it’s the best idea they’ve ever heard, and you’ll get to work on bringing it to life. But that might not happen, because of budget or bigger priorities or any number of reasons.

So don’t forget—even if this plan doesn’t work out, it’s simply a lesson to make your future ideas even more successful. The more you practice getting innovations out of your head and into the real world, the more likely it is that one of them will become big.