Sorting Sparks or 10 Questions You’ll Want to Ask When Qualifying an Idea


in Creativity,Money,Personal Growth

As you may have guessed by now, I am a fan of ideas. I love having them. I love hearing about them from friends and not-yet-friends. I especially love making them real – pulling the slender threads of thought together until something tangible appears in this world. Actualizing an idea is where everyday magic happens and real learning occurs. It is where we find out what we are truly capable of when we try. It is where we step into in the rich, creative process that is life.

That said, becoming a master or mistress of creation is no easy feat. Ideas are everywhere – poking and prodding to be heard. To be seen. To be realized.

For the most part, we have been programmed to ignore these little sparks of our own genius as being unrealistic, impossible to act on, too selfish to pursue, or some other reason meant to keep us from doing or trying too many things.

After all, we are only meant to have one big idea, one passion, one purpose – right?

Obviously, I don’t buy into that philosophy.

I believe that true personal wealth (and I’m not just talking about money) comes from our ability to seize the sparks and see if they might catch fire – in our hearts, minds, and quite possibly, our pocketbooks.

I know it’s not easy to do. Even if we are cognizant of these little embers that sear our consciousness, we often don’t know what to do with them when they present themselves. So we blow them out. Extinguish them. And they become nothing more than a fine dust where once the flame of possibility existed.

As a result, I’ve become a big believer in sorting sparks.

What do I mean by that?

I believe that ideas are a gift. We are under no obligation to act on all of them but we should at least acknowledge them and evaluate whether we want to fan the flame.

Evaluating an idea is pretty simple. It’s much like qualifying a sales prospect. You need to ask questions to determine if you have a hot prospect – something that’s on fire now, could be fanned into flames later, or should be left to burn out.

The next time you feel the heat of an idea don’t ignore it or dash out to act upon it. Instead, take a breath and capture your idea. Write it down somewhere so it is honored and not lost to the next thing on your to do list.

Then, ask yourself a few questions to help you decide what you want to do with it. Not only will you learn more about yourself and what is important to you, you’ll be graced with ideas more often – because you are paying attention.

What is appealing to you about the idea and why?

Drill down deeply and explore the reasons why the idea is attractive to you. The why is critical. If the why isn’t sufficiently compelling to you at this time (and this could change, by the way), simply write the idea down and gently remove it from your list of current possibilities.

Does the “why” meet one of your personal core values?

If you don’t know what your values are (those ideals and principles by which you govern your life), it might be a good time to figure that out. If the idea resonates deeply with your values, it could merit further consideration.

Is the idea something you would actually do? Would you actually take the steps required to make the idea a reality?

For example, I might be intrigued by learning how to pole dance because it would meet a core value I have around health and vibrancy, but I can’t actually see myself doing it which puts the idea in the no-go category.

What would you hope to learn? Would you feel satisfied if the only thing that came of the idea is that you learned something?

This is important. As you saw with the sock project, the only thing I came away with was an education. This possibility was something I had acknowledged at the outset of the project as an acceptable outcome.

What would the obstacles be?

There will likely be some obvious obstacles that you can identify right away (My wife/husband/partner/mother/dog would give me grief. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the money. Etc.) and it’s prudent to admit they exist at the beginning, rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist.

Are you sufficiently interested or passionate about the idea to overcome these obstacles?

If you aren’t hot, hot, hot on the idea, quietly thank your idea for showing up and pledge to check in with her another day; otherwise, you’ll waste tons of time and energy only to have your idea burn out because you won’t be able to fuel the fire.

Would it be fun?

I can’t stress the fun-factor enough. If it’s not fun for you on some level (either in thinking, learning, acting, or engaging with other people), it’s probably not worth doing because some days, having a bit of fun is the only thing that keeps you going.

If you acted on the idea what would you like the end result to be and is that end result something that aligns with your values?

This is called knowing your “end game.” It’s something that most people miss in the exhilaration of the start. You need to know where you want to end up before you get going; otherwise, you might end up someplace else and that someplace else might be less than desirable.

Do you have the resources to act on the idea?

Resources take many forms – money, knowledge, time, etc. Know your strengths and understand where you are going to need help in order to realize your idea. Doing this at the beginning, rather than scrambling in the middle of the process, will help you usher your idea into reality much more smoothly.

Do you know what kind of support you might need and why?

I think of support as those things we need to make it through challenging, exciting times. Think:  the babysitter who doesn’t mind that you are an hour late; the friends who will cheer you on or be brutally honest when you most need to hear it; the mentor who will tell you that you are brilliant and what steps you need to take; the coach who will keep you on track. Get the idea?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you’ll have a better idea of whether the idea is something you want to pursue or if it is something that you just need to acknowledge and be thankful for while you wait for the next spark to light up your life.

Speaking of sparks … you may want to check out Danielle LaPorte’s Spark Kit. It’s full of good information for sparky people (I know because I bought it) and if you buy it through me, I get a bit of cash. Now that’s an idea I like.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Rita July 29, 2011 at

Really like this post, Andrea. I’ve got an idea that I’ve been acting on, and your checklist of questions helps me see why it’s one that has gotten beyond the thinking/dreaming phase. Even though I’ve started acting, I have moments of thinking: That’s not really going to work. Or, What am I thinking? Your questions are helping me see why it’s gone beyond the idea stage and what I need to think about/do to make it work. Thanks for both inspiration and practical help–both are necessary, I think.


Andrea Olson July 29, 2011 at

I’m so glad the questions help! Can’t wait to see what you’ve got cooking… I bet it’s hot. :)


Ronna July 29, 2011 at

OK, woman: brilliant! This should be a 10-week course right here! Every one of these is right on point and has so much more embedded underneath and within. I can see the badge on your sidebar (and mine) now!!!

It’s a spark (idea) worth pursuing…as I run it through your rubric! Do it! Go! Go! Go!

I’m fanning the flame, for sure!!!


Andrea Olson July 29, 2011 at

Love that idea!! Thank you, my friend!


Vanessa@Luxuria July 30, 2011 at

Great post. Even if ones idea is in progress (as mine is) it’s great to use this as a checklist every now and then to make sure we are still on track :-)


Andrea Olson July 31, 2011 at

Thanks Vanessa! I can’t wait to find out what you are up to… You always have the most delicious ideas.


Janeen August 1, 2011 at

Always, good to stop by your blog; always something there to be savoured. The analogy that “ideas” are like “sparks”…some catch on-fire right away, some have to be fanned into flames later, and some burn out—so very, very true. And probably for most of us, more “sparks” burn out than should and so the 10 questions you have set up for us to ask ourselves are excellent, helpful and even a little igniting ;) . So once again you’ve given me much food-for-thought…as always, thank you so much Andrea~


Andrea Olson August 2, 2011 at

Janeen, you are a treasure. I’m hoping that something “hot” shows up for you. Thank you!


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