Having a big idea can be life changing, yet many of us abandon our ideas as pipe dreams. Our fear of taking risks, our lack of courage or conviction to follow our dreams, often leads to regrets and disappointment. Have you ever asked yourself why you haven’t pursued an idea you had? Maybe it was for starting a business, creating a new product, or for a living the life you’ve always desired.
The excitement of creating new ideas and bringing those ideas to life is the topic of Haley Hoffman Smith’s new book, Her Big Idea. She recently shared with me how we all have the power as creators to change our lives with our ideas.
Bonnie Marcus: Your book is candidly written for women who want to come up with an idea and bring it to life. Is it just a book for entrepreneurs?
Haley Hoffman Smith: I really appreciate this distinction because I think ‘entrepreneurship’ is such a buzz word nowadays, and no one really knows what defines one. It leaves out the millions of women who are working full time corporate jobs, but have ideas that they enact in different ways. The overall urging of the book is to rather fixate value in the power we have as creators to come up with an idea – any idea – and bring it to life. That doesn’t necessarily mean a product or a service that we quit our jobs for, and commit our whole lives to building.
Marcus: What type of ideas do you encourage, then?
Hoffman Smith: Much of the book emphasizes the idea we have for the life we want to live, so we take on an entrepreneurial role in the creation of our own lives. It’s the notion that we can be the architects of what we give to the world and in turn, what we experience. One of my favorite parts of the book highlights the wisdom of J Douglas Bate, the co-author of the Strategy of Innovation. I went to a workshop he held at Brown a few years back, called “Create Your Life”, at a time when I was feeling particularly lost, even though I was working hard in college and my startup was succeeding.
He talked about the power of intention, and fixating on the idea of what our life COULD be if it was our ‘dream life’ – in our careers, our families, you name it. So, the book shares a hypothetical about a woman who is an accountant but wants to run her own restaurant one day. There are two options: the first is that she could call it a pipe dream and sweep it under the rug. The second is she could keep it in her mind’s eye that she’s open to opportunities that gets there; or she’s holding it as her intention. This makes her more likely to see clues to lead her to her ‘dream life’ – the example in the book being an ad above the creamers in Starbucks searching for a new head chef at a luxury restaurant, which could lead to a chain of ‘serendipitous’ events, propelling her closer to her dream.
Because we consume only a sliver of the billions of bits of information we’re bombarded with every day, it’s all too easy to ignore opportunities that are square in front of our faces if we aren’t looking for them. So, if we choose to be cognizant of what we intend for the creation of ‘perfect life’, we may be able to shift our perception and be more open to opportunities.
Marcus: How does this translate for women in corporate careers?
Hoffman Smith: Regardless of differing industries and experiences, the root of desiring more from our careers is the desire to become experts in our field and leaders in our communities. I believe the key to this is to take initiative and do something that stands out.
When I started my first nonprofit at age 18, I had no idea that qualified me as an entrepreneur – I simply thought I was taking initiative on something I cared about. But, it positioned me as a leader and an expert in nonprofits, literature, and girl empowerment. I made myself a leader by taking a risk. It was simply the courage to bring an idea to life. I assure you, it’s made all the difference – not just for me as an entrepreneur, but for me as a student, an employee, and a woman.
Sometimes, the initiative or call to action isn’t obvious, which is why the call to set an intention before looking for opportunities is so important. It’s especially important to set that intention and put on our ‘problem solving’ goggles for intrapreneurial initiatives. I was recently talking with a friend who is interning for Morgan Stanley this summer, and she told me she wants to do something that stands out to heighten her chances of receiving a return offer. I asked her what bothered her about the program, or what needed fixing – if anything. She mentioned she is one of the two girls in the internship program. Lightbulb! I advised her to propose a program to increase the number of college women recruited in finance. This initiative would position Morgan Stanley positively and celebrate her astute leadership capacity….which nearly guarantees a return offer.
I think there are always ways to do something similar, regardless of the company. Someone with an entrepreneurial mindset is looking for problems to solve and ideas that make things better. The key is to set the intention, and allow the opportunities and ideas to crop up naturally from this mindset.
Marcus:What about for women who have a corporate job, but also have an idea they want to pursue on the side?
Hoffman Smith: There’s a chapter in the book called “The Tipping Point”, about the moment an idea has nagged us for too long and we feel a renewed sense of urgency to pursue it. This plays out in numerous experiences reflected in the book; one woman, Cherie Aimee, had a near death experience, and another woman, Christy Johnson, went into labor with her twins too early. These experiences signaled to both women that life is short and nothing is guaranteed. But, there’s also a more logical way to reach a tipping point. Tiffany Yu, the founder of Diversability, was quite happy in her corporate job but found herself wanting to bring her passion project to life. So, she did a ‘test run’, hosting one event to see if the idea was viable. It was a no-strings-attached experiment. She decided that if it didn’t go well, she’d simply leave the idea behind her. But, it went better than she ever imagined and that was the signal she needed.
What excites me most about the book is the call to action; that we are never stuck, and can at any given moment draw on the courage and resilience to create something new, whether it be a new circumstance, position, initiative, you name it. The heart of pursuing a BIG idea is the knowing that we are the captains of our own experiences, and if we ever find ourselves in a situation where we are limited, whether by a glass ceiling or otherwise, we can circumvent it with the subtle yet revolutionary power of an idea. It is what positions us as leaders and visionaries, and enables us to do so much more in our careers.
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