Your passion—bolstered by strengths, fueled by motivation—is crystallizing into a plan. Now what? Barbara Sher explains why it's time to throw an idea party.
Isolation is a dream killer. Sitting alone for too long with an idea is more likely to breed self-doubt than spark an action plan. So before your goal succumbs to inertia, I suggest inviting some friends to what I call an idea party. When you gather people at a party where the goal is making your dream a reality, something amazing happens: A friend of a friend has a contact who can help, your neighbor knows a workaround for what's tripping you up—and suddenly, you're in action.
I've seen so many fantastic plans get traction at idea parties. A woman interested in fashion got instructions on how to work backstage at Fashion Week—and an introduction to a local designer. Someone who couldn't afford to quit her corporate job but dreamed of working with primates met a zoo liaison who invited her to volunteer with spider monkeys on the weekends. A woodcarver who designed harps out of rare wood was upset that her usual supplier in England had run out—until another woman at the party exclaimed that her brother had a stand of the same trees in Australia.
To get started with your own idea party, you first need to know exactly what's holding you back.
Print this exercise and write your goal in the center of the circle.
Maybe it's "Train guide dogs for the blind." Or "Set up an art studio in the garage." Or "Study yoga in India." Now consider your goal and listen to all the "but" excuses your brain frantically lobs in your path. "But I have no idea where to train dogs! But the garage gets terrible light! But I don't know anyone who's ever been to India!" Write these excuses outside the circle. These are the obstacles standing between you and your dream—and an idea party will help you knock them down, one by one. Here's how:
1. Go Broad
Ideas flow from unexpected places, so don't worry about crafting a perfectly calibrated guest list or balancing out the lawyers and artists. Invite four or five friends and ask each of them to bring someone. Keep it simple: "I'm having an idea party next week. Want to come?" They'll press for an explanation, but resist. Intrigue is part of the fun.
2. Start by Lying
I know ice-breaking games aren't everyone's cup of tea, but don't skip this step. It's important that your guests feel loose and comfortable before they start brainstorming—you don't want anyone holding back. I use an exercise called the Lying Game to help people think creatively. It's simple: Each person, in 15 seconds or less, tells the biggest lie they can conjure about themselves ("I'm an alligator psychologist"; "I'm the prima diva of the Metropolitan Opera"; "I eat pixie dust for dinner") and then explains what they like most about the lie they've told ("Alligators are suspicious, and it warms my heart when they trust me").
Your guests might not realize it, but they'll be revealing something through the lies they share. This will help others feel more trusting around them, even if they can't articulate why. And as the game continues, people will build on one another's suggestions—exactly the interaction you're trying to cultivate.
3. Let the Ideas Fly
When you're ready to get down to business, have everyone sit in a circle. Explain your goal and the obstacles. For instance, "I want to go to India, but I'd like to talk to someone who's been there first; I don't speak the language; I don't know a good travel agent." Then pick up a pen and get ready to write—you're about to be flooded with ideas.
It's important that you not filter responses or discount suggestions—write everything down, to process later. If you think you'll have a hard time with this, ask a friend to be the note-taker. Don't be surprised if guests ping-pong ideas at one another—or call or e-mail days later with new insights. All of it becomes ammunition for you to break down barriers and start living your life to its fullest.