Back in 2006, exceptional web artist and pioneer vlogger Ze Frank coined the phrase “brain crack” in one of his famous videos. Though not an actual drug, the phrase refers to an equally-as-addicting and very well known substance: ideas.
Specifically, it refers to the kind that “stay around in your head,” appealing to your hopes and dreams but simultaneously seeming too far-fetched to actually pursue – at least until the time is “right,” or so we tell ourselves.
As we know, our decision not to engage in the pursuit of an idea is generally less about timing and more about our own prevailing notions of fear and doubt.
There’s something else that holds us back, in addition: the tiny notion that, perhaps, we subconsciously enjoy keeping that grand idea of ours untouched, saving it for a rainy day when we can tell ourselves, “Well, at least I’ve still got that idea in my back pocket.” However, will you ever get around to it?
Frank’s approach to handling this so-called “brain crack,” this wide-spread habit of nursing one’s ideas in a perpetual state of infancy and hope, is quite possibly the most relevant and beneficial philosophy that any mind, particularly one that is young and entrepreneurial, could grasp. How so?
Very simply put, Frank is telling us to try. As daunting a task as it may be, you have to try to knock that idea of yours off its pedestal and into the real world as quickly as possible.
Want to design clothes? Head to the fabric store. Have a quirky invention? Make a prototype. Want to be a writer? Start writing! If you’re still in college, by all means, please change your major to the one that most aligns with your passion or realm of passions.
Most importantly, embrace the falls; they will come in many forms. There will be the realization that your idea has a massive hole in it. There will be a lack of enthusiasm from someone you were counting on for support.
That’s okay. After all, it is not in the initial inception of an idea that triumph lies; success magically unfolds itself. It is in trying it out.
It is in the persistence and testing and retesting of it, and sometimes changing it altogether. This is where the growth happens and the opportunities arise.
Honestly, it is not the idea itself that really matters; it’s the exploration and evolution of the idea.
This philosophy often is broken down into separate contexts. One part reflects the social context, identifying more strongly with stories of individual and self-growth. The other part reflects the intellectual context, identifying more closely with stories of entrepreneurial or professional success.
For instance, advice comes in the clichéd talk of “travel the world and you will find yourself” or “work diligently and your business will succeed,” but when do you ever hear “travel the world and you’ll find yourself with a successful business”?
Never, because how feasible is that? Well, if you’re writer Janice Macleod, or a few of the people below, it’s actually very feasible.
Here are a few stories about kicking the “brain crack” habit and going for that idea of yours:
Exhibit A: Janice Macleod, "The Paris Letters"
In her own words via this Etsy interview, Macleod was an advertising copywriter “on the brink of burnout” and “devising ways to bust out of cubicle land.”
So, she spent a year saving money and dreaming up escape routes. When she finally quit her job, Macleod opened an Etsy shop in hopes of selling some of her artwork to help support the move.
While her shop may have been both a creative outlet as well as a foundational building block for a business, it was not quite as financially successful as she had hoped -- at least, not at first. As Macleod wandered Europe, she began handwriting travel letters to friends from home.
She would relay personal reflections and sometimes dream up short stories, a collection of little poetic doses. As it happened, her friends loved receiving the letters.
Soon thereafter, her path collided with that of a fellow artist and she felt inspired to begin painting illustrations within the letters.
And, what do you know? Friends from home couldn’t get enough. Then, friends-of-friends from home starting asking how they might be able to obtain such nifty keepsakes.
Thus, “The Paris Letters” was born and her “Janice Artship” Etsy shop was transformed into a full-fledged, subscription-based business.
Talk about combining one’s passion with one’s potential, right?
Exhibit B: Lessons From an Angel Investor
Watching a roundtable earlier this year, an angel investor recalled a story about a hopeful guy who once came to him with an idea.
It was for a new product that would automatically stop a bathtub from overflowing so that a person would not have to do so manually.
It didn’t take long for the angel investor to write the idea off as completely useless. The investor told the hopeful guy to go find 15 people off the street that would purchase the product, and if he could do that, he would fund his bathtub venture.
He never heard back from the hopeful entrepreneur, as the guy probably came to the realization himself that most people are okay with manually filling their own tub.
However, a few years later, he happened across him on the street; the “hopeful guy” was coming out of a fancy new car in a beautifully tailored suit.
The angel investor said to him, “So, it seems you’ve done well! What happened?”
His response was, “Every time you use one of those sinks with an automatic faucet, I’m probably getting a nickel.”
Therein, again, lies our lesson. The entrepreneur’s determination to try out an idea and, ultimately, his willingness to allow it to evolve led him to great success.
Exhibit C: My friends and I, “By the people”
Now, here's one last story, one that is very much still in progress.
Last winter, I was getting pretty downtrodden and in dire need of a creative outlet, myself. I, like most 20-somethings who have grown up exposed to the wonderful world of connected opportunity and excessive stimuli, found myself simultaneously overwhelmed and terribly bored by the 9 to 5 grind.
I yearned for something more. I missed college and the free time spent on extracurricular activities.
I missed getting together with friends, so many of whom are talented, and talking about topics other than work and the latest social buzz.
I missed the feeling of young, sleepless hopefulness for what was to come. So, I started daydreaming about what my absolute dream job might look like.
Stringing together my love for entertaining combined with my personality as a connector and all the delight I took in the arts, I decided and righteously declared that I would open a champagne lounge/art gallery/coffee shop in Manhattan, comprised of and starring all my talented friends.
Well, I didn’t have half a million lying around to execute the initial idea, and similar venues of this nature already exist. End of story, right?
Of course not! With the help of my Type-A enthusiasm and the invaluable input from friends and family, the idea was renovated into a pop-up art gallery/flea market called “By The People” (BTP).
We kicked off the first BTP in May of 2013 in NYC and have had two more since. At the first event, surrounded by happy friends and passionate artists, I knew that though a far cry from the initial idea, BTP was a success in its own right.
So, give up the “brain crack” and get your ideas out into the real world now! The experiential knowledge and persistent attitude you gain will take you further than you could ever imagine.
You may end up halfway across the world, living out life in the country of your dreams, and you may even end up a millionaire. At the least, I can promise that you will end up amongst friends.