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My Definition of Innovation: Make Awesome Where Awesome Is Not

It was 2011, and I was on stage at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored event, sitting in the chair where Gary Vaynerchuk was supposed to be. (Gary was the guest for this particular panel but his flight got delayed so the folks at FC asked me if I’d be willing to slide up and fill his spot. You can imagine the audience’s disappointment, right?)

On the spot, the moderator asked me what my definition of innovation was, and without giving it too much of a thought, I responded: “Make awesome where awesome is not.”

I only remember this so vividly because it’s the same definition my girlfriend still uses to this day (and repeats back to me in an effort to point out my occasional overuse of the word “awesome.”)

Now here’s why I think this definition matters, and especially why it might matter to you if you’ve had an idea brewing in your head for a while now but have yet to turn it into a reality…

Whether you have an idea that feels like it’s been done 100 times or whether you have an idea that feels so far-fetched it could only work on Elon Musk’s Mars, YOU are more than capable of innovation.

Let me explain.

Chances are, if you have an idea and you haven’t turned it into a reality yet, it fits into one of these two categories:

Category 1: You like this idea, but it feels like it’s never been done before, and that scares the shit out of you.

This is the category that most of my own projects have fallen under over the years. Whether it was getting paid to wear t-shirts for a living with my company IWearYourShirt back in 2009 (I donned t-shirts with logos and made YouTube videos before “YouTuber” was a widely accepted occupation); or selling my last name twice (auctioned off my last name for $45,500 to become Jason Headsetsdotcom in 2013 and again for $50,000 to become Jason Surfrapp in 2014); or making $75,000 on my first book, Creativity For Sale, by selling sponsorships at the bottom of every page (before I had written a single word); for a while there, I had the market cornered on “business ideas that will make people laugh in your face.”

With every single one of these ideas, I asked my friends or family or close business peers what they thought, and with every single one the majority of those people doubted I could make any money at all.

That’s the trouble with Category 1 ideas:

What hasn’t been done before (aka “where awesome is not”) is made up of equal parts endless possibility and raging disbelief.

But then, of course, you have Category 2.

Category 2: You like this idea, but it feels like it’s been done already, and that scares the shit out of you.

Let’s take a second to talk about ideas “that have been done already,” shall we?

In 1996, two smart guys started working on a project together out of their garage. While this project was unique to them, and they were going to put their own twist on it, there were many other companies who had already created businesses in their specific niche – twelve of them in fact, a handful of which had become extremely popular and profitable.

But these two guys believed in themselves and saw an opportunity to do things differently. They knew they could add their own unique twist on an existing idea.

Maybe you already know that the guys I’m talking about are Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google. But maybe you didn’t know that 12* other companies had already created search engines (many of them doing extremely well) before the idea for Google came to be.

***

In both cases, the bottom line is that ideas can sometimes scare the shit out of you. But in both cases, you have a tremendous opportunity to make awesome where awesome is not in this world.

Innovation doesn’t just have to mean that you invent the technology that revolutionizes communication. It can also mean that you simply make something that didn’t exist before.

It could be that you find a way to monetize platforms that already exist, like I did (in spite of those that don’t believe it can be done.) It could be that your version of “making awesome” isn’t necessarily in the what you make but in the how you make it, like Larry and Sergey figured out a way to do search in a way it hadn’t been done.

Whatever kind of idea you have though, the only way that your opportunity for innovation gets taken away is by never doing anything at all. By standing still. By letting that fear get the better of you.

Whether you’re starting a business and doing something that’s never been done before, or you’re twisting an existing idea into your own, the beginning will mostly likely be the hardest part.

Here are the three things that have made the biggest difference for me in getting an idea off the ground.

Believing in yourself won’t bring you any guaranteed success, but it will help you get further along than most.

You could be building the next Snapchat. You could be creating an online course. You could be writing your own book. You could be trying to get paid to wear t-shirts for a living.

No matter what you’re creating, if you don’t believe in yourself and your idea first, you’ll never reach any level of success.

Thankfully for me, this is a trait that I was born with. For as long as I can remember, even as a little kid sitting in a bedroom dreaming up ideas for comic book characters, I always looked at the world differently. There were times in my childhood when it became clear that doing things differently wasn’t the way to get ahead, especially in school. I was starting to pick up the fact that maybe being “smart” was a better way to navigate than being “different.” Boy am I glad I didn’t let those voices get to me because as it turns out, being smart isn’t the only thing that counts. Scoring well on tests isn’t the only thing that counts.

As long as you carry an unwavering belief in yourself and trust your gut when navigating those deep, dark, and uncertain waters of creating something unique or something that hasn’t been created before, than you also have the power to help people see your vision of the world and what could be.

You don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Every idea I’ve ever had has had one thing in common: I wanted to get XYZ thing, more than I feared what it took to get it.

That’s what sets people who make ideas happen apart from people who don’t, and that’s the very first reason any of my ideas go from thoughts swirling around in my head to viable businesses that create value and generate revenue.

Your original idea is nothing until you make the first version of it and then ask people to download it, buy it, or subscribe to it. Until you make an ask, your idea is nothing more than cartoon bird floating around in your mind. (And unfortunately, you can’t pay for lattes or your rent with cartoon birds in your mind.)

Ironically, being willing to make the ask is also what can help you overcome the self-doubt. The fear of the unknown is crippling: Will people hate my idea? Will they laugh at me?

Once you realize hearing “no” isn’t as bad as you thought (and it never is), you gain the ability to keep asking until you hear a “yes.” And let me tell you, all you need is one “yes” to stoke the flames of your own belief.

Your friends. Your customers. Your clients. Your shareholders. They’re not going to show up on your doorstep and throw yeses at you because you read this article or any other article on entrepreneurship, business, etc. But they will show up if you believe in yourself and you ask them to show up. It may not happen the first time. You may have to ask more times than you’re comfortable asking. You may have to modify your ask and change up who you’re asking, but if you want to achieve your dream more than you fear the reality to takes to get you there, your ask(s) will be rewarded.

With patience, your bucket of appreciation will fill up.

Everyone wants happy customers with glowing testimonials to put on their websites or the back of their books right out of the gate, but it takes time to gain appreciation for your ideas.

That’s probably why a lot of people never act on their ideas in the first place – not necessarily the fear that their idea will be met with rejection but the fear that people won’t even care at all.

Imagine that the gaping void of validation that you crave for your idea is in the shape of a bucket. A bucket of appreciation. The mistake most people make is forgetting to look at their buckets of appreciation in relation to where they are on their journey.

The day I launched IWearYourShirt, 12 people showed up to the website (and I’m pretty sure 5 of those were my Grama.) If I had been expecting a response that would fill a Grand Canyon-sized bucket of appreciation, I probably would have given up and shut the whole thing down that very day. I had the ability to see that I was just at the very beginning of the life of my idea, and those 12 people were enough to feel appreciated in a bucket the size of which matched the age of my idea.

Google didn’t start out as one of the most profitable companies in the world. They started out with a $100,000 check from their first investor (and a slightly upgraded garage). Sure, you may or may not be chasing $100,000 at the beginning stages of your idea like Google, but the point is that if you don’t appreciate your business or idea at every stage in its existence, you’re quickly going to overwhelm yourself with unrealistic expectations. Your bucket of appreciation will end up feeling too large, and any praise you do get will barely cover the bottom.

Instead, it’s important to match your expectations with your reality. Dream the big dream of creating the next Google if that’s your aim, but put your expectations in check with what your current circumstances are.

With patience, not only will you find the right people to fill up that bucket of appreciation that you’re so desperate for, but you’ll find that the size of your bucket will grow in proportion to the hard work you’re willing to put into your idea.

These are the ways that I’ve been able to make my own awesome, in my own way, for over a decade now as an entrepreneur, and I’m far from being done.

Meet my fourth innovative idea…

A year and a half ago I scribbled an idea in a notebook. I wanted a way to package up all the disparate projects/businesses I had created up until that point and sell them as one unique opportunity. But, it wasn’t just bundling the projects together that made this idea innovative; It was offering the opportunity to also get all my future projects with that purchase at no additional cost.

Having the idea for BuyMyFuture was one thing, but making it a reality was a completely different animal altogether. I had to believe in my current self AND my future self. I had to stand out on a shelf full of entrepreneurs selling their own products. And without anyone having purchased this specific idea before, I had to put my expectations in check, make some uncomfortable asks, and attempt to fill my own bucket of appreciation with a little hope and a lot of hard work.

Buy Jason Zook's Future

And it worked out. 178 people showed up with their dollars, their praise, and most importantly, their enthusiastic support. Here are a couple notes of appreciation from folks who bought BuyMyFuture:

“Everything just seems to be ‘what I need, when I need it’ which has been pretty awesome. I could get WAY more if I interacted in the community more, but I plenty of time in the future to do that.” – Danielle Pasternak

“It’s the best money I’ve ever invested in a ‘marketing’ purchase in my life. I’ve bought a few courses for $1k+ and the value that BMF has delivered is easily 100X compared to those.” – Brendan Hufford

“I’ve really enjoyed being part of BuyMyFuture – I think it’s full of incredible value (got my $1000 worth on past products alone). I feel like a kid on Christmas, waiting for the next thing to drop. And I enjoy getting to be on the inside as Jason creates new projects.” – Ben Noble

“I feel like I have a personal coach and motivator in my corner at all times! Plus, I secured sponsors for workshop tour and am finally about to launch an online course thanks to Jason’s courses!” – Dani Ives

“Having access to a community of like-minded people and having access to Jason’s input and expertise is far more valuable than any product in my mind. That being said, I also love the products. They are very useful and informative” – Josh Layhue

And here’s the truth…

I wrote this article because I hope you turn your current or next idea into a reality. I hope the cartoon bird version of it flies out of your mind and morphs into a first (actual) version that someone can pay for.

I hope that you stop looking at competition in whatever market you’re in as a hurdle, and instead, see it as proof that people are willing to pay for some version of your idea and as an opportunity to innovate in your own unique way. I hope you believe in yourself and channel that belief into the work it takes to receive the appreciation you’ll get if you make the asks (and then repeat that process over and over again).

I’ve been blown away by the appreciation of my ideas over the years, and I want the exact same thing for you.

I said it as an offhanded comment in 2011 and I’ll say it again: All that innovation requires you to do is make awesome where awesome is not.

Let the making begin.

 

*Search engine count source: https://www.wordstream.com/articles/internet-search-engines-history
**Google garage facts: https://www.google.com/about/company/history/

This is the end of the yellow brick road. If you want to read more articles mosey on over yonder.