How to Be the “Idea Guy”

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That’s a dangerous phrase isn’t it? The “idea guy.” The one who spouts things but doesn’t actually do the work associated with the thing and yet still wants to see it done. The person who takes way more credit than is actually due them. 

Those people suck. 

But let’s say you don’t suck. And you had this really cool idea for an animated show or a game or a  comic, but you really don’t have the skills or time to pull it off. How do you take that idea and find the people who can help you execute it without being an insufferable fame monster?

Are You an Insufferable Fame Monster?

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it, so ask yourself: do you want to make this thing for the love of making things or do you want to be known as “the person who came up with that thing?” Do you want to do or do you want it done?

Do you want to do or do you want it done?

Without naming names I knew a guy whose big thing was that he would come up with these ideas for shows for various studios and YouTube channels. He also has his own original series he’s been wanting to “get off the ground.” The thing is he’s not a writer or a video editor or an artist or, really, has any of the technical skills needed to do any of these things he wanted to do and never seemed to care to learn in the time I knew him. But he’d certainly act in these productions, and he’d call the studios/channels/projects “his” on Twitter while rarely properly acknowledging all the other people who put in the work. The studio of “his” I was involved in pretty much folded right after a handful of workhorse creators (myself included) left. 

So, are you that guy? Are you that person who doesn’t really want to do the work but wants all the credit? You might have to be tough on yourself, but that’s always a possibility. 

If you, instead, go in with the willingness to work and foster an environment of mutual collaboration, then you might just be okay even if you’re not bringing in a specific skill. 

Don’t Just Be an Ideas Guy

There’s truth to the notion of “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

I mentioned this in a previous post, but rarely will anyone else be as excited about your project as you are. It’s not their baby. So that usually means taking the largest share of the creative and design work. Look at your skill set. Many times there is SOMETHING you can personally contribute in a major way to this production even if you don’t realize it. You can write, storyboard, sketch, program, animate, video edit, coordinate, do marketing, keep things organized, do resource management, secure funding. There is a skill in there somewhere that can be essential to the functioning of the project. 

Don’t devalue soft skills or esoteric skills. If your primary skill set revolves around social engagement and marketing, then you better run the hell out of that Twitter account.

If you don’t have one of these skills, learn one of these skills. Then you stop being an “ideas guy” and start being a “writer who wants to collaborate” or a “programmer who needs artists.” Showing that you’re willing to do large chunks of the work makes you appealing to people who you’re trying to get to work with you. 

Develop Your Idea All the Way to the Execution Stage

Think of your idea like IKEA furniture. You come up with the design, put together an instruction manual, and send it out with all the parts and pieces to other people who can then put it together. 

There is so much conceptual work that can go into design without executing any other higher level skills. 

Let’s use the development of an RPG, as a quick example. Maybe your idea is “a space RPG, but you play as aliens fighting the humans.” Cool. Neat seed. You can’t/shouldn’t just stop there, though. If you came to me as a writer with just that I would complain about you to my writer friends for the next week. That’s an “idea” without any design behind it. What’s next then? That’s where the research comes in. From here you can develop out concepts for:

  • the game loop
  • core mechanics
  • possible engine
  • main characters
  • mobs
  • bosses
  • environments
  • story beats
  • aesthetic
  • UI
  • voice work
  • marketing
  • distribution
  • funding
  • and about a 100 other things

As a writer, if you came to me with design documentation and a show bible, I’d be like “okay, yeah, I’ll hear you out” even if you had no assets done or any programming knowledge/experience. Because you’ve shown that you, at least, understand the level of complexity involved. 

This also lets you sort of “hand off” the idea to your collaborators more easily. 

…she’s doing all the other things that aren’t hard skill related

I’m working on a serialized audio drama as a writer, right now, where the “idea originator,” so to speak, isn’t actually doing any of the writing. However, she had the idea, padded it out a little more, developed a production strategy, then went to a writer who she was very close to and said, “Can you help me make this project come to fruition? What would it take?” and hired him as the lead writer. She then worked it out with him long before the rest of us came in to form the writers’ room. She leads every meeting, contributes creatively at a conceptual level, and is working on the funding and marketing so that we, as writers, don’t have to worry about it. So even though she’s not actually doing any writing on this writing-centric project, she’s doing all the other things that aren’t hard skill related. That’s how you contribute to a project at an idea level. 

Let the Idea Go

I have a friend who basically has a shower thought journal. Any time he thinks of a sort of spare idea, maybe only a sentence, he writes it down. In a production meeting, we were talking about story ideas for original scripts. He goes “I have a bunch,” and just drops them in the chat. At this point, they’re basically writing prompts. Little snippets of ideas that people can run away with if they so choose. And he’s more than happy to give some of these away just for that purpose. At the same time, he doesn’t expect anyone to adhere to any kind of parameters or to get any credit for whatever final product comes out of it. He’s letting those ideas go off into the wilderness without really any concern for how they twist themselves away from his initial internal vision. 

And that’s not a bad way to let an idea go. A lot of really cool stuff gets made that way, and that doesn’t mean that idea is suddenly “done.” That’s the beauty of ideas. There’re so many ways to build upon them, even things born of the same seed can turn out dramatically different. 

An Idea is Practically Nothing without Its Execution

There’s this sort of…thing…that happens in the creative community. We put this incredible value on our ideas, on our sparks of inspiration. We hoard them like magpies, running our greedy hands over them. And we’re afraid. We’re afraid to share them with others for fear they’ll steal them away. 

That’s not to say ideas aren’t worth something. Great social and technological strides have come from very simple ideas. It was not the ideas, themselves, however, that did this work, but the execution of the idea and the people pushing it forward. 

My mom came up with an idea for adhesive on the bottom of sanitary napkins when she was eighteen, but she’s not one of the several dozen patent holders for one of the many innovations in feminine product design over the past fifty years. So just the idea didn’t really do much for her because she never acted on it despite having the resources and ingenuity to do so.

Don’t be so scared you guard your ideas to the detriment of your overall creative freedom and expression. Might someone “steal” your idea? Possibly. It’s certainly happened. You may even feel the need to secure legal protection of your idea before making it publicly known. That’s perfectly fine. 

But even if someone does “take” your idea, they won’t execute the same way you do, and there’s still enough room in this world for innovation and iteration on older ideas. So don’t be so concerned about this possibility that you never move forward and seek out collaborators that could help you bring your ideas to fruition. 

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