Putting It Out In the Universe

Think your dreams are out of reach? Here's how writing out your ideas can help.
September 06, 2011

A lot of New Age books tout the power of putting ideas out into the universe. Once they’re out there, they say, you can expect them to come true.

I’m a pretty practical guy. In fact, some of my friends might even think I’d scoff at fluffy mysticism like this. But here’s the thing: I actually buy into this.

You can never discount the value of hard work and perseverance, however, more than once in my career I’ve seen huge successes that started as nothing more than brainstormed ideas or pie-in-the-sky dreams.

The offices of 1-800-GOT-JUNK were called the Junktion. It was an amazing place to work, flowing with ideas, ambition and really, really good coffee. It was a pioneering workplace that has become a model for other young, hyper-growth companies to follow.

One aspect of this incredible space that still stands out in my mind is the “Can You Imagine” Wall. It was a lot like a suggestion box, where employees’ ideas were displayed with a little creative flair.  The Wall became a big art of our culture. If you were standing around the watercooler and someone said “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do such and such in the future?”, they’d be met by a chorus of “Put it up on the Wall!”

The Wall wasn’t as structured or concrete as our long-term plan (something I call our Painted Picture), but was a fantastic way to keep everyone dreaming about where the company could go. And, because it was right there in the middle of the office, it helped get our guests jazzed, too.

I had a few ideas up on the wall, including one that came about after I wondered out loud why Harvard Business School didn’t do a case study on us. We were doing some revolutionary things and building a world-class brand and I thought the business world should take notice.

Lo and behold, a guest in the office saw this posting on the Wall and told us they knew someone at Harvard that approved cases. A few phone calls later, and 1-800-GOT-JUNK was an official case study of the world-renowned Harvard Business School.

Okay, some of you might say that’s just a case of luck, or an affirmation of how small a world we live in.  So consider the case of Andrea Baxter, a co-worker at the Junktion whose idea went from her lips (“Can you imagine our name on the side of Starbucks’ cups?”) to the Wall to (you guessed it) the side of 10 million Starbucks’ cups.

A lot of people snickered. Heck, I even thought she was a bit nuts, but Andrea was adamant, “As long as you can see it in three years, I’ll make it happen.”

If we’d never expressed our ideas, or written them on the wall, they very well may have never happened. Did we affect the cosmic energy of the universe and weave our ideas into reality?

Probably not. But by talking about these ideas and writing them down, we introduced them to ever-widening network of people. A network that then began to work, however subtly, to make these ideas come to life.