The best Ideas take time to make. Like a perfect vintage of wine. Effort, time, and luck.
There’s a handful of times a good idea has struck me. Just a few. But I think back now. Was it really luck that idea came to me? Probably. Destiny? Maybe. But there were people that seemed to have good ideas on a regular basis.
How could I become one of those people? How did I have good ideas? Would I have better ideas if I intended to? There was only one way to find out.
How I created fertile ground for good ideas?
Good wine starts with good grapes. These come from fertile ground.
I try to set the right atmosphere for great ideas. Remove distractions. Water the ground. Remove the weeds. Pray for a great harvest. The rest of those early times our out of our control.
I have two separate processes for this depending on the types of ideas that I am trying to have. Am I trying to come up with an idea that is outside of my comfort zone or an idea for a subject or process that I already know?
I try to set up the environment to match this process. If I’m working on a current project such as a blog post or a new video. Something that is a continuation of a current project then I’ll go to a familiar spot. Set up for comfort. Somewhere I know well. The rest of the process is the same.
Turn off notifications. Block off some time on my calendar. Free me from distractions or what I call mental weeds. They come up and choke life and sustenance from our fertile ground. Then do the hard part. Sit there in silence and think.
Now if I’m trying something new, a new project. Something outside of my comfort zone. I’ll try to go to a new place. I don’t have much space in my small apartment so will try working somewhere different.
Maybe I’ll stand instead of sitting. Or sit on the ground. Usually, the ground is left for serious problems when all the other places aren’t working. When was the last time you sat on the ground? I rarely do. It really feels different.
We have the most control in the beginning. Think about a color. I’ll wait. What was it? Why did you think about that color? Now think about another. What color was it? Any idea why that one came up instead of green. Or maybe it was green. Why wasn’t it blue?
What comes to us after we sit down, we have little control over. But our mental state and environment at least we have a little power over.
Feed your creativity
Great wine comes from happy grapes. You can’t just plant in the best ground and expect good grapes to pop up. You have to be careful with what you feed it. From the day the seeds go in till the day you pick them, the nutrients you give it will affect its taste.
So how do we feed our brain so that it has good ideas? You feed it with good ideas from other people. Something challenging. Or maybe outside of your knowledge base. I try to read, listen, and watch stuff from wide array sources. Of course, there are a few from stuff that I’m trying to learn.
For example, I listen to a bunch of podcasts on medicine to keep my skills sharp. But even then I try to keep it varied. I’ll listen to internal medicine podcasts. ER doc podcasts, critical care.
I also listen to podcasts on online marketing or history. You never know what can spark a good idea so I try to keep the nutrients that I feed my brain well-diversified.
On the other side, I also try to limit the junk food that I give my brain. I limit the amount of TV I watch and am more intentional with where I get any of my inputs.
That’s not to say all TV is bad. It’s more likely that I’d get a spark for a good idea from an article from a blog I follow or a podcast than I would from a TV show.
Sometimes it’s not enough
Now you’ve started off with fertile ground. Fed your brain the best of nutrients and you’re sitting there without an idea at all. Sure, you may have some not so great ones. What should you do?
As much as I’d love to say there was a solution. There’s no way to force good ideas to come. Rain doesn’t come no matter how hard we wish it.
We need to wait. Give it time. Some of my best ideas have come when I was doing something else. Not even thinking about what I needed to come up with an idea for. So what gives?
The missing ingredient needed was time. I needed to give my idea a chance to grow. My brain was working on coming up with a solution that I needed in the background. My grapes were growing.
So how do I put this into practice? It means that I’m not waiting till the last minute. I need to sit down and work on my big projects on a regular basis and give my brain time to come up with the ideas I need.
Bottom Line: Your best life is out there waiting for you to create it.
I was always told to focus. There was little to be gained by doing more than one project at a time. Little did they know… that they were right. Well, they probably did know that. My advisors in residency had been advising people for a while. Who was I to try something different?
Fortunately, they had the grace to not say I told you so after I didn’t get a fellowship. Twice. However, they couldn’t have known that it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I was told my resume didn’t show that singular focus was required to get into fellowship. That I would wake up and think, “How am I going to get closer to getting into fellowship today.” Most days in residency I just woke up hoping to survive.
On days that I had more strength, I had hoped to learn something along the way. I had always seemed a bit scattered in residency. Working with the heart doctors, the lung doctors, and even the pharmacists. I kind of just went where I saw something interesting.
In residency, everyone and everything was interesting. Not much different than now. As you can see, curiosity is a strong suit of mine. For better or worse. When I graduated I had a choice, to double down on that curiosity or to start focusing.
When my life changed?
I decided to double down on my strengths. I decided to start an online course. I had to basically teach myself critical care because my hospital was one of the many that did not have in-house intensive care doctors. In my free time, I taught myself the basics of creating a course and created the foundation of a course. Not knowing if it would turn into anything, at least I was learning something new.
Around that same time, I made a conscious decision to put myself out there. Out where? I didn’t know. I just would be more willing to whatever life had to offer. I had joined a few online physician communities and thought they would be a good place to find some kindred souls.
There were plenty of other docs that were where I wanted to be. Fellowship wasn’t in my cards, but maybe something else that they were doing was. There was a post about a local meet-up in Los Angeles, and that was my chance. I offered to host it, set it up, whatever was needed.
What happened next was mostly luck and a little intention. I believe that you increase the surface area of your luck by putting yourself out there, getting over your fear, and being intentional. My current business partner reached out to me after he saw my post. He was trying to put himself out there too. We instantly bonded.
We had a lot of shared interests including education. He had a blog where he taught doctors how to earn passive income. I thought, hey I’d like to learn how to do that, and maybe I could help you get your message out through an online course.
Since that time, we’ve created an online course on commercial real estate taken by hundreds of doctors, had a live in-person conference, and another virtual conference with over 12,000 attendees. Based on those successes, we’ve also created an online accelerator for physician entrepreneurs.
What I’m working on now?
Throughout this process, I realized that there weren’t many people who had documented their journey. I knew a few docs who were pretty successful but they had started blogging later in life. Or blogged about other topics, not how they got to be where they were.
I was always looking for virtual mentors, ones whose path I could read about to help me guide my own. I was encouraged to make my own path, and that’s where the idea for this blog came to fruition. This blog will document what I’ve learned along the way and the many failures that will inevitably happen so other people can learn from my journey.
I have started a few projects from scratch that have been fairly successful. I’ve realized a passion of mine is to help other people get up and running on their interests inside and outside medicine. To help with that, I have also created a consulting service to help other physician-lead companies and startups. My strengths lie in helping either myself or others with the beginning stages of growth so my consulting service will help with that.
I’m currently working with an established venture capital fund to help them grow their educational platform and also a few docs who are just starting to help establish their brands.
The Concierge VA
I’ve quickly reached a saturation point in the amount of shallow work I can do myself on a daily basis. To help with that, I’ve hired a virtual assistant that has made a day and night difference in my entrepreneur journey. I can barely imagine how I was able to manage life before hiring her.
When we were getting acquainted and getting her up and running, I found that there weren’t that many great resources on how to best utilize a virtual assistant. The material was superficial or just out of date. I wanted help with the day-to-day. How do I structure the job so she could be her best self?
There was so much I learned in just the first few weeks of working together that I think I could save someone else countless headaches and time. To help others along this process, I’m partnering to create a virtual assistant company for other physician entrepreneurs. We will work with the physician to match them with a VA just for their needs and to help them with onboarding. The service is called The Concierge VA and will be launching soon.
The solution to most problems is a Google away. These days you can learn almost anything online. Pretty much any solution is a quick click away. You may even find a step-by-step guide on Youtube that details exactly how to solve your problem. Even the exams we take after we finish are open books.
Now think for a second. How many of your friends and family’s phone numbers do you know by heart? A couple? Probably less than ten. There’s no reason to memorize more than a few anymore.
We’ve been off-loading knowledge work to our phones. This also works with people. Couples who have been married together for a while will have difficulty remembering events that they went together in the past. The details of the events. Yet, if you ask about the event when they are both together. They will fill in each other’s memory blanks.
Our brains are lazy or efficient depending on how you look at it. They only store facts and memories that it thinks it’ll need in the future. It’ll archive or get rid of the rest.
So what do you do if you’ve forgotten something? Or never learned it in the first place?
Learn to Google
Think when you want someone to search the internet for something, what do you tell them to do? Google it? Google is such a part of our culture that it encapsulates all internet searches.
I can’t tell you how often I’m able to find a solution to a problem I have at home or at work with a quick Google. Car showing a dashboard light? Google. Need to check the adverse effects of a medication? Google.
There is an art and skill to internet searches and it boils down to two factors:
1. Your initial search phrase
2. Picking the right result
The initial search phrase is made up of the words that you put into Google. If you were to put, car engine dash light you’ll get millions of results. While if you put: “Honda Accord 2012 yellow wheel dashboard button meaning”, you’ll have a much higher chance of getting the correct answer in the first few posts.
The more specific you are the better. I try to be as specific as I can and only be more generic if I don’t get many results. You also want to use words that are in the same domain as your problem. For example, if the icon on the dashboard in my car is a tire or wheel, I’d have much better results than if I typed in a yellow circle. Or a round thing.
Next, and as important is to pick the right result. Depending on what the problem is I’ll try to point it towards a certain direction. For simple things such as household or car issues, I’ll add the word forum. Or I’ll look for forum results. Forums are small communities usually of enthusiasts that help each other. I’d find the problem with my car on some type of Honda forum. Instead of looking for the forum directly, if I type my search into Google, It will look through many forums for me.
Now, instead, if I’m looking or a medical question then a forum won’t do. So I’ll add Google Scholar to the search phrase and be much more careful with the type of result that I pick. Often times, Google is even better than the search features on a website. So you’d be better off typing your search into google and adding the name of the website to your search phrase.
Of course, not everything is on Google. I won’t be able to find an exhaustive list of treatments for a rare disease for example. However, if I was able to just find a case report or two through Google. That’s enough. Then I’d be able to look at the references in that case report and be able to find more substantial research. I’ve saved countless hours using Google to start my medical research search than starting off with Pubmed.
Instead, had I gone to the library and tried to find the articles I needed, I could have been there all day and still not found what I needed. The power of Google and internet searches, in general, make learning how to use it by far one of the most important skills we have.
We knew when we got the idea to make our course that we wanted to do it right. I thought of all the videos I had watched from Ramit Sethi and wanted to be like him. So we rented an all brick studio. Hired a professional video guy and filmed it all in one day. We even had a teleprompter. When it wasn’t perfect, we even took off another day from work and filmed again. This time we rented a house by the beach.
Do you know how much of those videos we used in our final course? One segment. Five minutes out of the countless hours that we filmed. We lost thousands including the time we had to take off from work.
There were a ton of lessons we learned, expensive lessons. So you guys can learn from them. First, we were trying to do too much at once. Peter Kim and I are both physicians, so we had a little money saved up for the project. We decided to do it the best we could afford all at once.
Instead, we should have thought of the project as a startup. We would have tried to do it the best we could with limited resources. What people often call a minimal viable product. The best we could do at the time. And then try to improve it over time.
We didn’t need to hire a professional videographer. And actually, we didn’t even know what qualities make up a good one. We realised there were different types of video professionals. And that we had hired the wrong one. Some of our other friends started with their phones. They filmed themselves. We ended up wasting money and more importantly time.
Once, we did some more research, we found out that most people do their courses with voice over slides. We wanted to be different for the sake of being different. In the end, that’s what we did too. There was no good reason to have us in the video. This way we could make a new video at home. Our course would be a living, breathing class that we could update in real-time. There was a reason the industry standard was to do things a certain way.
1. When trying something new, limit your resources. Try to come up with a minimal viable product.
2. Look at what resources you already have and try to use them
3. See what others in the industry are doing, try that at first, and then innovate.
Whenever I meet someone new, I ask what they do for fun. It beats the where you from and what do you do that they always get asked. I usually see a small twinkle in their eyes. People are excited to talk about their hobby or past time. I always am.
When I first met one of my students, she told me about her love for ballroom dancing. We talked about all the different styles. And I even got some tips for my wedding first dance.
By the time most people finish, I’m itching to try their hobby. They just sold me on it. And didn’t even have to try. It could be anything: sports, eating out, writing. And the conversation flows and leaves a lasting impact.
I can’t tell you how often I get asked what I do for a living. I like to change it up to keep it interesting. I’m a writer. I’m a teacher. Or marketer. All true at some point in my week. Don’t get me wrong. I love talking about medicine. It takes up so much of my life that sometimes I like to talk about what else is going on in my life. Like writing this blog or the newest restaurant I tried.
In all my hobbies, I’m considered an amateur. Every little thing seems like a mystery. When I learn something new, I feel like a kid again. Full of wonder. Of course then if someone asks me about it, I’d be happy to tell them. You can hear the wonder in my voice. Here is this new amazing restaurant I tried. Check out this new blog post.
We know how to sell. We do it without even thinking about it. We have to be talking about something that excites us. Why can’t we do it on demand? Selling has a bad connotation. It reminds us of used car salesman or those people that would go door to door to sell us something. But we have to sell on a daily basis.
Convince someone that already takes 8 pills a day to take another one? I have to sell them on why it’s important. Ask someone who has knee pain that they need to exercise? More selling. Convince my wife that she wants to try this new Mexican food place I found? Selling.
It’s a skill we need to use every day. And the best part is that we already know how to do it. It’s easy to get excited about our hobbies and sell someone on it. We are telling them why we love it and the best parts of it. We can do the same for other parts of our life that we have to sell.
You know why your patient needs to take the new medicine. Wouldn’t her improved health be exciting? I bet you’d be pretty happy if she came back and the medicine worked. Let that enthusiasm through. Think about the why behind what you’re doing. You’ll be able to sell naturally. You already do it all the time.
Now sell me on your hobby. I’ll highlight a few in future posts.
During college, I started a club for people interested in working for a pharmaceutical company. It was my first time starting anything. I had a pretty decent job working at Pfizer and was still deciding if I wanted to go into medicine. The club sounded fun and something good to put on my resume.
I asked a couple of my smartest friends to join. And somehow got the courage to ask my favorite professor to be part of it and he even said yes. I was ecstatic. I already had visions of the club being on the biggest at school. Unfortunately, it never got anywhere close to that. It only lasted a few meetings before it fizzled out.
What did we talk about for those meetings? The name of the club. That’s it. We couldn’t come up with a name. And each person wanted it to be something different. It was my first venture as a leader. Looking back, I’m thankful that it was something with such low stakes.
I was with my smartest friends. I didn’t feel I had the right to change the subject. I wanted everyone to have their say. Everyone was so excited to start the club. We lost all our momentum. The club never even got started.
Thinking back, we lost the forest for the trees. A name? It didn’t matter. Just look at some of the biggest names out there now: Google, Uber, Facebook. Their names don’t mean anything. Nothing profound. If instead, we would have gotten a few easy wins the club may have survived to do something meaningful.
It did lead me to learn some lessons:
1. True leadership means looking at the bigger picture and choosing priorities
2.Don’t waste the momentum and excitement you have when starting something new. Do something.
3. Remember that not everything needs to be right in the beginning, you can always change or pivot.
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