My Big Idea: Using Prototyping To Conquer Idea Paralysis

Have you ever spent an hour belaboring the final wording on your proposal? Or taken an extra day to perfect the details of your new event idea, in concept stage, just to be ‘prepared’ before you present it to someone?

We’ve all been there.

And the frustration felt in those ‘editing stages’ is a true pain point. We are wasting our time and energy trying to get an idea perfect, when it’s more than likely going to change many more times before it hits the final ‘stage.’ The trick with bringing new ideas to life is to embrace the ever-evolving process that will mold the idea into something more practical at each step. What can we do when we feel stuck in wrestling this idea to the ground?

Build a prototype.  

You will move forward faster and more effectively if you simply get the idea out of your head and into a form that someone can interact with.  The act of doing this creates momentum, offers a new lens for you to view the concept, and provides a way for others to share the insight you’ll need to implement. Moving beyond your logical mind is a principle that the Design Thinking world embraces and calls “Building to Think.” We can’t can’t use logic only to get innovative ideas into reality. The act of building accesses a different side of our brain and further taps into our creative, ‘right side.’

So, how do you prototype? Isn’t that just for technical projects, or a startup?

Yes, this concept has great success in the startup world and it can easily transfer to whatever project you’re working on. For example, in writing this article, I first created a mockup of the points I wanted to share, and a storyboard to think through the flow:


This helped me avoid the block of perfecting words as I wrote (a huge sticking point for me), and find out if others resonated with the concept. From here, I had a much stronger foundation to sit down and type this post, faster than I typically would be able to.

To prototype your idea, get behind the value of rough and ready construction. This means taking advantage whatever materials you have in front of you or easy access to. The best forms of prototyping from the design thinking realm include:


1) Storyboard.  A ‘comic strip’ of your idea and how it would play out in completion. Check out this article in Fast Company, “8 Steps to Creating a Great Storyboard” for more insight on applying this.


2) Paper Mock-up (or paper wireframe). This a great method for prototyping technological concepts like websites, apps, etc. Using pen and paper, you sketch the interface(s) that a user would see when engaging with your idea.

3) 3D construction or model. Use any materials at your disposal to construct a rough 3D artifact for your concept.

4) Role play. This format is about acting out the scene or interaction you’re trying to create. You may feel silly, and that in itself helps you to move  beyond your rational brain. Role playing is a powerful way to place yourself in shoes the ‘user’ (or stakeholder’s) shoes to understand what your concept experience might feel like for them.


Prototyping forces us to let go of being perfect before we show our work to others. This can feel uncomfortable because who wants to share imperfect work? It’s completely natural to resist it. And acknowledging that it’s in fact our ego at stake, not the concept, we should aim to move beyond the fear because bringing innovation to life requires us to hear constructive feedback and incorporate it.

Ready to get started? Here’s how you can get begin prototyping your ideas:

  • Find an easy place to start. Think of a project you’re feeling stalled on, or a creative effort you’d really like to take forward. Pick out the most critical or essestial area to focus on (chunking work is also key in this process).

  • Get your hands dirty. Set a timer for 45 minutes, and get to work building something. Perhaps you are storyboarding the flow of the event you’re working to execute, or you grab a coworker and role play the entry experience for your attendees.  Maybe you’d like to mock up a homepage for your new meetup. Or, you could create a rough artifact for your rewards program.

  • Pause. When the timer goes off, wrap up! Reining in your thoughts is part of his process. Take a break, and walk away from the prototype.

  • Reflect and interpret. Come back to it and assess what you yourself have learned in this process. Then go capture feedback from others whose opinions you trust and distill their insight.

  • Iterate. Use this new set of information to create the next step or version for your concept. Dig deep and ask yourself what is most essential to include based on what you’ve learned.

There’s a famous quote in the Emotional Intelligence field that says, “do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?” The notion applies here as well.  The best way to create momentum for your ideas and access more data you’ll need to make the concept happen is to stop overanalyzing it build a prototype to bring it to life.


By Allie Armitage


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