4 Mistakes People Make When They Have A Great Idea

Everyone knows the number one rule of improv is YES AND. But before you can even say “yes and” to something, someone has to have a great idea and make some sort of offer. Something must be shared or given – a line of dialogue, an action, a facial expression. Everyone is valuable on the improv stage, because everyone brings different life experiences. To even get to the “yes and,” you have to be willing to be open and share with other people.

Recently, I was meeting with an old friend, who wanted to share a great idea he had about a new writing project. He handed me an outline and asked if I would look it over, on one condition – I wasn’t allowed to show this sheet of paper to anyone else.

That was fine with me. I didn’t have a burning desire to put his book outline on Facebook. But sharing a great idea is the best ways to make the end product better. That’s why we prefer, 99.99% of the time, to do improv scenes with others than by ourselves.

He must agree that sharing improves the quality of the work. Why else would he have asked me for my opinion on his outline?

If you look around at successful entrepreneurs, you’ll notice that they’re sharing every day. Improviser Jimmy Carrane releases a free blog and free podcast each week, which he uses to share his expertise. That way, his audience views him as a credible expert and buys his books and workshops. Google used to have a site called “Google Labs” where they invited average Joes and Janes to play with their latest online innovations and provide feedback. Many online multiplayer video games have open betas – they allow fans to play a small portion of the game to both build buzz and crowdsource bug testing.

Despite all this, there are many out there, my friend included, who try to protect and safeguard their great idea. Rather than engage an audience, build buzz, and establish their credibility, they hold the information tight so no one will steal the idea. They’re afraid if word gets out, someone will beat them to punch. But they don’t realize…


“Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

No one wants to steal your great idea, because an idea is only 1% of the way to a finished product.

It’s meaningless without the days, weeks, or months of passion and work you’re planning to invest. I will happily tell you that my next book is going to be about using improv to be more creative in your daily life, and I know full well you’re not going to write the book out from under me. It’s just too much work if you don’t have the expertise or drive.

And even if you did steal my idea…


If you put out a book on improv and creativity tomorrow, I’d still write the book I was always going to write. Just like we each bring something unique to the stage, we’d each bring a different perspective to the topic at hand. We each bring a different writing style, different anecdotes, different experiences.

Now, I admit that writing a book is a bit more personal to each author than creating a product like Uber or Airbnb. But if Garrett Camp (Uber) or Brian Chesky (Airbnb) came up to you when they first had the idea for their product, would you have gone through all of the technologic and legal hurdles to beat them to market? Even if you had, you’d be just another ride sharing program like Lyft or Sidecar. And each of them seems to be unique and successful despite all stemming from the same, original idea.

Throughout the web’s short history, there have been dozens of search engines, webmail providers, and social networks. If you wanted to create a new one, you shouldn’t be discouraged. If anything, you should race forward because…


We all want to be original. We all want to blow the world away with a much-needed product or service that no one’s ever seen. But ideas don’t work like that. Ideas come about through an evolutionary process that builds on the previous generation’s ideas and technologies.

If anything, ideas that are totally original often fail.

Since its founding in 2003, Tesla Motors has led the electric car revolution, and their dominance continues to increase. But the technology behind their flagship Model S is over 150 years old. In fact, in 1888 the original Tesla (Nikola) invented a workable AC auto engine, but it didn’t catch on until now. What gives?

Nikola Tesla was ahead of his time. People didn’t see the value in an electric car. Fossil fuels were cheap. There wasn’t much talk of climate change. It wasn’t worth the investment. This totally original idea failed until the timing was right.

If you’re holding on to a totally original idea, your biggest fear shouldn’t be theft. It should be failure. But if someone else is already successfully making a profit with a similar idea, then you know there’s already a captive audience for that product.

I bet most of you, in addition to reading my blog, also read Improv Nerd. The fact that Jimmy is out there, has a bigger audience, and has been doing it longer doesn’t mean my blog will flop. The fact that he has an improv blog with 10,000 Facebook fans means there’s at least 10,000 improvisers out there hungry for more online improv content.

And we’re not the only two improv bloggers out there either, in the same way you’ll never be the only person with your idea, because…


Multiple invention is exactly what it sounds like. There’s evidence throughout history of innovators coming up with the same ideas at the same times. There were six different inventors of the thermometer, four of decimal fractions, five of the steamboat, and over twenty for the light bulb. The individuals who get their name on the discovery just happened to get there first (and they didn’t get there alone).*

If you hold on to an idea for too long, someone else is going to have it anyway. The trick isn’t to hold it as a closely guarded secret. The key is to start executing immediately, no matter who knows.


Very few actors wants to do an improv show alone. We all love the art form because we like creating with other people. And despite the fact that every improviser has the same set of fundamental tools (yes and, game of the scene, listening, honesty, etc), I’ve never seen two teams do the same show with the same suggestion. It’s impossible. No team ever quit doing Harold because someone else was already doing it.

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” – C. S. Lewis

Great ideas work the same way across all arts and sciences. We’re all playing in the same cultural and technological sandbox. Wouldn’t it be better to share what you’re learning so we can all grow and benefit? Wouldn’t it be better to share your knowledge and establish your expertise? Wouldn’t it be better, if we both had the same idea, to work together and pool our resources so we could produce a better product? If it works on stage, why shouldn’t it work in real life?

*Matt Ridley, The Evolution of Everything

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