What to Do When You’re Totally Out of Ideas?

Even before I opened my eyes, I knew I was screwed.

Opening them only confirmed it.  The guy I was traveling with had drugged and robbed me of everything I had.

I was in a dangerous city in a foreign country, didn’t speak the language and now with no passport, travel visa or money.

And of course, he left me with the hotel bill for the room we had been sharing for almost a week.

The next two weeks were rough.

The challenge was I could not leave the country without proving when I arrived, as the country required an entry Visa from Americans.

Yep, I was screwed.  How the %&#* was I going to get out of there?  My plane tickets, which proved when I arrived: stolen.  My photos with day and time stamps on them: stolen.

I had almost nothing.

In fact, the only part that went smoothly was my visit to the US Embassy.  While were waiting weeks and even months for supporting documents to arrive from the States for lost or stolen passports, I walked out with my new one within two hours.

Thanks to the photocopy of my original passport I managed to hide from the thief.

But without my travel visa, I was completely lost.

As was my dream of a life-changing backpacking trip, spent exploring some of the world’s most exotic and remote areas.  And it had barely begun.

I was hungry, out of money and ideas.

Then one day, sitting on the beach in complete despair, I remember thinking to myself, “Stefan, the choice is yours:  you can leave either hating or loving Brazil.  Which is it going to be?”

I chose the latter.

So I got up, brushed off the sand, and headed to the nearest phone booth and called a Brazilian friend I had met the night before I was robbed.

She insisted I stay with her while I arranged to get money wired to me from my family in New York.

As soon as the money arrived, and knowing it would take the Brazilian authorities another week or two to get my papers in order, I walked straight to the nearest travel agency and said, “Please send me to a really beautiful part of Brazil for a week.”

Stefan 5-month backpacking in S. America

The travel agent looked a bit confused with my vague request.  But she did well, sending me to an incredibly beautiful part of the country.

A couple of weeks later, as I was sitting in my airplane seat on the tarmac about to leave Brazil for the next leg of my trip, I said to myself, “Wow, what a wonderful and crazy adventure.  How I love Brazil!”


Tips on How to Get the Ideas Flowing:

  1. Surrender—Get out of your own way.  More than likely the reason why you are where you are is because you got yourself there!  Being stuck is great because now you’re open to ideas that you wouldn’t normally be.  Just allow the solutions to show up and be ready to act when they do.
  2. Make Requests—Reach out to your network of contacts.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  People usually like being asked for advise and help.
  3. Take a Hike—Clear your head and get away.  Go somewhere foreign to you.  Leave the distractions behind, like iPhone, iPad, etc.  Have fun and do nothing related to your challenge.
  4. Coach Someone— Coach someone with a similar issue.  Many times it is way easier to see the strategy when it is not you in the hot seat.
  5. Ask Powerful Questions—Your mind will answer any question you ask it.  For example, “How could I have been so stupid?”  or “What’s wrong with me?”, your mind answers, “You’re so stupid, because….”, or “What’s wrong with you is….”  Instead, ask questions related to the fastest, best, easiest way to achieve the outcome you want.  Make sure the outcome you desire is specific and measurable.
  6. Hold a Brainstorm Party—Buy pizza and beer for a group of folks you respect.  Pose the challenge in a clear and specific way. Let them talk.  As long as the food flows, so will their ideas.
  7. Be Committed—Promise you’ll resolve your challenge, the best way you can, after acknowledging where you are with everything and that it will all turn out OK.

Usually one or more of these tips breaks you through almost any idea impasse you may encounter.


I know, because these days when working with entrepreneurs deep in their funk, I tell them about my Brazilian adventure from 1998.

And how that experience has served me greatly over the years.  Whenever I am out of ideas, I say to myself, “If I can get through that, I can get through this!”

And so far, I have always been right.


Action Steps for the Week:

Stuck?  Confused?  Not sure where else to turn?


Because now you’re ready to try things with minimal resistance.  Set up a Meetup or a brainstorming party.  Get the pizza and beer.  Invite your most creative, supportive and synergistic colleagues and friends.  If you don’t really know, even better.

Take the top five ideas that come from that brainstorm, create specific and measurable “what, by when’s” and then launch them in priority order, one-at-a-time.

The idea is to make mistakes. This means you’re in unfamiliar territory, a good thing in this situation.  Just accelerate through your mistakes by gauging your progress from the measurable outcome you desire.

Repeat this until you get your desired outcome.

Most likely you’ll find other things to try along the way.  And if your passion and discipline holds, you’ll most likely find a solution that will rock your world.