Inspiration hits like a ton of bricks. It’s the spark that ignites a forest fire. You never know when it will come or what will bring it on, but you must always follow it. Inspiration can take you on an impossible journey that can lead to riches or enlightenment. It also can end up as the first 10 pages of a never-to-be-finished novel or just a sketch in a notebook, but it still deserves to be pursued.
Inspiration that leads nowhere still has value. Peace of mind is hard to come by these days, and by following your inspirations, the wouldas, couldas, and shouldas that might cause you sleepless nights will be kept at bay.
The wonderful thing about being a software developer is you already have most of the tools you need to follow inspiration at your fingertips. You have been trained to design and plan large projects. You can write the code to bring these ideas to life. You have probably crossed paths with many talented people from all different disciplines in your career who can give advice or lend a helping hand.
I have been lucky enough to have been inspired a few times in my life. It always comes from doing simple tasks or having random thoughts while doing mundane things. People think it’s strange that I like washing the dishes or vacuuming, but those tasks allow my mind to wander to the most beautiful places. Words, melodies, and ideas appear during these times of relaxed mental state.
In this post I will show you how to open yourself up to inspiration and turn this inspiration into creation. One idea can change your life, so it’s important to recognize it and act when it comes.
Recognizing Your Inspiration
It’s important to give yourself time to be present in the moment. Otherwise, you may miss your own inspiration! Meditation may be the most well-known mindfulness technique, but I’ve found that when doing tasks that don’t require much mental engagement, simply not rushing through it just to get it over with will accomplish similar results.
Focus on the task at hand and not on what came before or what you have to do next. The mind needs space to work and create. Right before sleep and right after I wake up are also excellent times for ideas.
I have recently begun to follow an inspiration down the rabbit hole. My wife likes to collect DVDs, among other things. She even alphabetizes them. To me they are nothing but things that take up valuable space in our apartment and, in the age of on-demand streaming, redundant. But to her they represent a solution to a real problem.
What if the internet goes away? Or more realistically, what if the end of net neutrality means streaming services become unaffordable?
The thing is, neither she nor I have ever watched at least half of the movies she has. So we made up a little game. We go through them one by one, and if neither one of us has seen a movie, we must watch it. If only one of us has seen the movie, either one can insist we watch it. If both have seen the movie, then we can watch it again if we both want to, or we can skip it. And, most importantly, if we both decide we never need to see it again, we can get rid of it.
We started going through her extensive DVD collection one by one. Some were unexpectedly great, some were so bad they were good, and some definitely went on eBay or to the library donation bin.
Me being me, I started a spreadsheet of the movies we watched along with a sarcastic, deadpan sentence or two of what I thought about each movie, like the Amazon reviews of the infamous Three Wolf Moon Shirt. Turns out this was the most fun part of the process for me, and the couple of lines of random thoughts I wrote down made my wife laugh.
A thought formed in my head: Why don’t I make a little blog with these blurbs? Maybe others will enjoy them like my wife does, and I can make a few extra bucks. Even better, what if I built a platform where others can share their thoughts and gear it specifically to movies?
Boom, inspiration has struck again.
When your inspiration comes it is important to write it down! The idea is only fresh in your mind once, and you must capture it as soon as you can. Just grab a pen and paper or open up the Notes app on your phone and write. Don’t worry about spelling, and no one will be grading your grammar. A lot of it may not even make any sense. Just get it out so you don’t lose it. When you come back to it later, you can clean it up.
Validate Your Idea
This is the most exciting time of an inspired idea, but don’t get carried away yet. Tell a few trusted friends about your idea first, and do some research. Do others like the idea? Is there anything else like it out there? If so, can you do it better? What’s the time and cost of getting it off the ground?
These are all sobering thoughts, and they’re where most inspired ideas go to die. If your idea got you this far, you learned something, and that is always valuable, but you don’t want to move forward on something that just won’t work.
Think about what your goal is for the project you are about to start. Depending on the answer to this question, your process going forward will be different. Are you trying to make money? Do you want a few extra bucks, or do you want to quit your day job and try to get rich? Or is this a more personal project where money is beside the point?
These are all worthwhile reasons, but the amount of time and resources you are willing to commit to your project will be different.
My decision to move forward with my inspiration was guided by some unusual circumstances. Due to the global pandemic, I had a lot of extra time. No more time spent commuting. My most important social obligation was now to stay home and avoid other people. I also had a new baby, and my wife had lost her job. Nothing will light a fire under your ass like the realization you are now responsible for taking care of not one but two other people.
I started doing some cursory research. I Googled my idea and any other variation of it I could think of. I looked at the websites of businesses that used the same idea but for different industries. I looked at websites of businesses in the same industry but with different approaches.
Make sure the space you are looking to enter isn’t too crowded and the market isn’t too small. I knew I needed a database of movies to work with (that wasn’t too expensive) and I needed a domain. If you are looking to start a business, make sure the name you have in mind for your company is available. This can be done through companies like LegalZoom or the department of state in the state where your company will be headquartered.
If the goal of your project is to make money, then you need to figure out how you will be doing that as well, especially if this is going to be your only source of income.
Get to Work
After looking into all these things, I was confident in my ability to move forward, so I built a prototype. When deciding how you will go about building your prototype, you should stick with what you know. Use the technologies that you are most comfortable with.
Are you an expert in Angular? Don’t use React because you’ve been itching to learn it. Focus on getting your idea built. I guarantee my customers don’t care whether I used .NET or Java as long as the app works. Try not to spend a lot of time on the prototype; you just want to prove the concept.
After I built a working prototype, I showed it to a few friends. These are people I trust and I know will shoot me down if it’s a bad idea. I know this because they’ve done it before. They’ve also helped me with ideas that they thought were good. I was happy to hear that they liked my idea, so I continued to move forward with my inspiration.
Inspiration Is Just the First Step
Thomas Edison said success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, and he was right. It is a long road to success, and you have just taken the first step. That’s further than most people get.
Still, keep your spirits up. Most developers are used to solving tough problems and working long hours, so you are particularly well-suited to meet the challenges ahead. And remember, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
I’m not sure if my new business will be successful, but the things I’ve learned and the fun I’ve had bringing an idea to life have made the effort well worth it. As software developers, we are used to taking other people’s specifications and building what they want. It feels great to come up with something yourself and build it the way you want.
You have the tools, so the next time inspiration strikes, take some time to dig a little deeper. It will always be worth it to find out if you have the next big idea on your hands, not to mention the possibility of financial and professional freedom.