The Two Steps to Make Good Ideas Happen

I’m not Christian, but I think its great to take Jesus as an example here. He had some good ideas. Turn the other cheek. Don’t judge people. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” I like it. There’s nothing wrong with an idea like that.

Jesus had no money. He had zero contacts. In fact, he was probably treated like a bastard when he grew up in Nazareth. For reasons I describe below he was probably picked on by the other kids. Certainly the neighbors didn’t think he was anything special. He had to move away to get his ideas across. And when he came for a visit they laughed at him.

And yet his idea got spread faster and further than any idea in history. How did that happen?

He had passion for his vision. He would talk about it to everyone he saw. Nothing was more important than his passion. “Let the dead bury the dead,” he said to a man who paused because the man wanted to bury his father. This is a metaphor. The past is gone. Even a second ago is dead. Dwelling on the past is when you try to bury the dead. Let the dead bury the dead. Else you will continue to be lost in the past.

Everything was dead to him except his vision. And one by one, many people agreed. People followed him. People who were able to persuasively convince others, even years later after he was dead.

If your idea is good and you can express it plainly and simply, then people will follow. You can say, people followed him because he had esoteric powers. But this isn’t true. Most people who ended up believing in his “ideas” followed him long after his death. Many people who knew him in his life ostracized him and even killed him.

Find the right people to include in your vision. Make them partners. Jesus gave “equity” in his idea to his disciples. And they, in turn, to theirs. Share ideas. Combine them. Mate new ideas with old ideas to create something unique but blended with something that has withstood the test of time. Christianity combined nicely with Roman polytheism by including saints. Saints gifted with various powers that can help you. And Christianity itself was a derivative of a tribal religion called Judaism.

There’s, of course, pain among the way. You have to sacrifice. When you have a good idea, its good precisely because it’s a unique twist on an old theme. This is an important nuance in all good ideas.


The “old theme” means it’s withstood the test of time.

Whether it’s thousands of years or just decades, millions of people have subscribed to the basic goodness in the idea. Imagine, for instance, if Justin Bieber did a remake of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Whether or not you or I liked it, it would be a guaranteed huge hit. Because we know a billion or so people love the song “Yesterday” so it’s withstood the test of fifty years time. Justin Bieber probably doesn’t even have to add that much of a unique twist in order to make it a success. (Although I will probably be in the camp hating him for it).

Some people will hate you and resent you. They like the old idea just the way it was! Some people will revolt. And be repulsed. Everybody hated Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs – anyone with unique twists on old ideas that changed the world. But when you pursue past this, while staying with your vision, then your vision will become reality. Because 99% of your competitors will drop out when the hate starts rolling in, or the resentment, or the jealousy, or your old bosses flip out when you move past them, or when people start telling you, “that’s not the way this is done” or “you can’t do that!” . You will suffer through this and be alone. But that suffering will open doors that nobody else has ever walked through. Until now.

By the way, two types of people might hate this particular post. The first is people who are staunchly atheist and hate all things religious. And, lo and behond, I have mentioned an organized religion in this post. I have nothing to do with Christianity. I’m Jewish but I try to learn something from anything I can. Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, etc. Why not? Who cares?

And I felt the analogy was appropriate here. Don’t let past prejudices ruin a good analogy. The second type of person who will hate this are staunch Christians who might disagree with my poetic  license on a 2000 year old story. In various books on the history of Christianity I’ve rarely seen Jesus referred to as a bastard. Although in the first chapter of the first book of the New Testament he is indirectly referred to as one by none other than Matthew.

Matthew gives the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Jesus. In Judaism you are always referred to as “X, son of Y”, where Y is your father. And the entire genealogy Matthew gives is like that. But when he gets to Jesus he says, “son of Mary”. In other words, the earliest Christian writers refer to Jesus by his mother. If even they did that, imagine what the bigger kids down the block must have called Jesus. And how that might have influenced his later psychology.

So ok, that was the analogy. Now I’m going to tell you what to do. TWO STEPS:

A) Make two columns. The first column is an old idea that worked. The second column is the unique twist.

For instance, Zappos worked here in the US. Can a version of it work in South America? Harry Potter was enormously successful. Can a version be made where an IRS tax agent suddenly realizes he’s a wizard? For thousands of years people have needed lawyers. How about a website where all basic legal documents (wills, divorces, loans, etc) are free? Is there some industry that is successful where you can remove the middleman and help people directly?

It doesn’t matter if the ideas are bad or good or even not original. Come up with ten. Today, tomorrow, the next day. Your ideas will keep getting better and better. You will become an idea machine within six months. I know this because I did it. I did it with trading ideas. I did it with business ideas. Book ideas. Chapter ideas. Investing ideas. Speech ideas. Post ideas. Ideas for clients. All sorts of money-making ideas. Maybe 10,000 bad ideas.

When you finally have an idea you think is good enough ask these questions:

Can I think of someone this would really help? More than one if possible.

Am I capable of implementing this? (e.g. don’t try to make a rocket to Saturn on your own).

Can I find five things wrong with this idea? (if yes, then move on)

Can I execute on this super-cheap so that if it doesn’t work I can move on to the next one?

List the things that would cause you to discard the idea. Always have an exit plan in case of fire.


B) Pick ten ideal partners you want to have (your “evangelists”). Write to all of them.

Give them the idea for free. Tell them it’s theirs and, if they want you to, you’d love to work on it. Tell them how much money they will make and how much fun they will have. If they don’t respond, write to ten more. Then ten more. If they still don’t respond, then you have not yet come up with a good idea.

Remember that they don’t care about you at all. They want to make money and have a better life and be happier. Just like you. Your idea needs to do that for them. Don’t call in favors. DO A FAVOR.

And if nobody responds, try something new. Come up with more ideas. Or refine the old ones. Keep repeating. Even Jesus had his missing years while he fleshed out his ideas. You can too.

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  • Sounds like a great idea James, I definitely agree with the the Jesus metaphor and focusing on the past.

  • Sebastien Latapie

    Great post! I’ve been having trouble writing my idea list every day. This has motivated me to start it up again.

  • Great way to describe how entrepreneurship is actually not about business, but about life.

    • Agreed

    • Tiltnes


    • McCray Veronica


  • That’s my King

  • Samuel

    WOW! James .This is one awesome post! Sharing it with my disciples in Chennai which is in South India!! I am here to organize a TEDx event which is about “Ideas worth spreading” . And I like the way you have used my friend JC!!

  • Fuck you James

  • Chimera

    Well, I belong to the first category of atheists yet I will not complain about your post.Like you, I am willing to learn from all religions. From time immemorial man needed some kind of path to follow, some placebo to explain the natural calamities, some leaders they can look up to , which gave rise to different religions. I was born a Hindu, am an open atheist, yet I look up to some of the teaching in Bagvath Gita. I learn from your philosophies. I can learn from a 5 year old. I think as long as we learn to rationalize the message, one can learn from anywhere. I think of you as a great teacher.

    • daniel wiltshire

      I’m like you Chimera. These religious figures didn’t start out as divine manifestations. They were just wise and had life-changing philosophies. Their followers turned them into figures of religious deference. The characters themselves, such as Jesus, Buddha, et al simply had a lot of really great advice for mankind. It’s too bad really, because religions do much to distract people from otherwise great philosophy upon which they were based. Imagine if people started worshiping Immanual Kant, Eckart Tolle, or James Altucher. It could happen, but it would obscure their sound teachings.

      • Roger McKinney

        If the New Testament is accurate, then Jesus wasn’t a good guy if he wasn’t God because he claimed to be God many times. He led his followers to believe he was God.

        Of course, if the NT isn’t true, then we know nothing about Jesus other than that a man with that name, of which there were many, lived 2000 years ago.

        • Daniel

          Thank you for sharing that line of reasoning. It was also famously stated by C.S.Lewis, and I understand it.

          However, for me personally, it doesn’t matter if Jesus was a good guy or not. His parables are wonderful guides for human life. I am deeply moved by the “Sermon on the Mount”, and the story of the women caught in act of adultery, where Jesus famously said “let he that is without sin cast the first stone.” I also am profoundly affected by the story of the prodigal son, and the parable of the laborers.

          Equally, my life positively changed when I understood Buddha’s discovery that unhappiness was connected to desire, and his simple advice to mitigate both. I don’t know anything about Buddha the man, and frankly, it doesn’t matter if he was a boy scout, an ax murderer, or whether or not he even existed. His teachings are still useful and life changing.

          As for the claim that Jesus is god, or Buddha is divine, or Baha’ullah & Muhammad are God’s messengers, these are wonderful notions for those that believe them, and I would never breathe a single word to say are not true.

  • Thanks James! Just a note, have you seen Tina Seelig’s video on creativity? I think she has some class points that compliment what you are saying here :)

  • Paul

    Jesus also did lots of cool miracles and rose from the dead. That will do a lot to keep a message alive.

  • Cara

    I’m a Christian and I really liked the post :) Nice to see someone who is not judgmental and can say something nice!

  • Great post. For part A, the unique twist can lead to creative tension/paradox which people love. It immediately makes the old thing interesting. Michael Ellsberg wrote a piece about this.

  • javan

    love it

  • Lisbeth

    I am not in either category call me a maverick :D. As usual you shared the words that I needed most on a day when I am trying to stay in the moment. As always Thank you!

  • ‘esoteric powers’…………. I had to look up that word esoteric. Good word

  • kevin faul

    James, it must be very hard to write every these posts every day consistently, especially when people disagree with some of what you write, sometimes I don’t agree though usually I unequivocally do, but thanks for walking through the fire and putting it out there. this blog has become a source of weekly inspiration. here’s a question: let’s say you have the idea and a partner, how would you write a proposal for funding or create the “thing” from the idea?

  • Farmer

    The truth is always attractive. Never sell your soul for 30 pieces of silver.

  • Mike

    It’s hard to get past the haters but once you accept that its ok to be different the world changes. Most kings get their heads cut off in the end but their legacy lives on.

  • Hope

    I’m exhausted just thinking about convincing those 10 disciples….

  • Roger McKinney

    Jesus was a Jew, as were all of the apostles and all of his followers for the first century.

    BTW, Luke refers to Jesus by a lineage other than Mary’s, probably the official kingly lineage.

    I’m a Christian but not at all offended by your analogy. In fact, you could go a step further: what great old idea did Jesus give a twist to? Old Testament Judaism, of course.

  • Roger McKinney

    PS, I think your advise is fantastic!

  • PolitiJim

    I like where you are going with this, but you’re theory of why his ideas spread aren’t based either in biblical or extra-biblical history. There are multiple stories in the New Testament where Jesus healed a blind man the community had known from birth. After his healing, thousands flocked to Jesus. Even Jewish historian Josephus documents that Jesus was known by miracle working, and the belief that He was raised from the dead.

    That still happens today as this oncologist describes a man supernaturally healed from cancer –!

    We Christians who have a personal relationship also EXPERIENCE God as the early Christians did. As powerful as it is to be healed or set free from “issues,” it is even more powerful when you experience His love, joy and peace first hand. I have been in traumatic situations with grave prospective outcomes and, after prayer, felt love and peace that is inexplicable. This very well respected surgeon gives a testimony of that exact thing happening to her as she was drowning. –

    The Apostle Paul said it well in writing to the early church, “your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

  • Long Views

    Exercising your idea muscle is really important. Being generous with it (not secretive) is also a good point. It’s all about people.