Jenna Mack is the creator and host of the interview program In the Grey. She is an experienced producer who was responsible for cultural segments on Charlie Rose, featuring renowned actors, writers, architects, and designers. During that formative time at the acclaimed PBS broadcast, Mack’s vision for In the Grey took shape.
Entrepreneurs, creators, artists, and visionaries have one thing in common: They start with an idea. Or a concept to explore. Or a mission to make something better, easier, faster, smarter, more meaningful. But it’s not enough to just have an idea. It’s what you do with it—and how you execute on it—that separates the field. Bringing your concept into manifestation takes vision, courage, focus, and help. These four questions can help keep you on track with your purpose.
What Makes Your Idea Different?
Get crystal clear on your vision and how it’s unique from everything else out there. Your idea doesn’t have to be something no one has ever heard of before (e.g., Lyft vs. Uber), but your spin, expertise, or angle on it should be. Spend time getting clear on your perspective and what you uniquely bring to the concept. Mark Twain famously said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.”
When I started my documentary interview series, I was cognizant that I did not want to add noise to an already noisy space. I realized while working in television that most of what is broadcast comes from a place of opposition. Black or white. This or that. I wanted to create a platform where the conversation focused not on such absolutes but rather the complexity and nuance of life, which lead to In the Grey.
Why Am I Doing This?
Have an idea that speaks to who you are and reflects what you believe. When you get distracted or discouraged, “double down on purpose,” says Bonnie St. John, author of Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy. Think about what is most meaningful to you about your work and create a picture or object that symbolizes that, St. John recommends.
“One woman at the Gates Foundation has a photo of a 10-year-old girl in Africa on her desk as a reminder of her purpose; another person has a photo of her team to energize her on a tough day,” she says.
In the Grey reflects my worldview and is very personal to who I am as a person. I believe that if we can feel like we’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, we would by definition be more empathic and feel more connected. Every decision we make, from filming to editing, is in service of moving beyond a black or white perspective to connect to another person’s story.
Is This Consistent With My Vision?
It’s critical to allow the creative process take you on its own journey. Keep your idea and its purpose at the forefront of your mind, but let creativity direct which roads to take. You can never presuppose what the journey is going to be like or how you’re going to get from point A to B, but trust that with focus, commitment, and courage, you will get there, and moreover, it will be more than you could have predicted.
I saw a video recently of a girl who dreamed of becoming a singer. While in college studying music, she became completely deaf. She thought her dream of music and singing was over, but through different techniques and her talent, she is now a singer even though she cannot hear the music playing or her own voice singing. Her drive to stick with her dreams, even when faced with what seemed an impossibility, speaks to the power of vision and creativity. The same is true in business.
Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, says that your strategy to carry out your vision (your “mission”) should change. However, your startup’s vision cannot change. If it does, that’s not a pivot—that’s a new company.
How Do I Know If It's Right?
When you’re clear on your vision, and you see your idea coming to life, you’ll know in your heart you’re on your way. For me, this happens during the editing process, which I find to be one of the most challenging and rewarding processes—it’s where you find the story. The helpful thing about documentary filmmaking is that the subjects help guide us along the way.
The starting point is always the most difficult, but once a loose form starts to take shape, the story starts to tell us what it needs to be and how it wants to be told. The most exciting moment is when the essence of that person starts to shine through. And you know in your gut that it’s right. Always trust your gut; when you do, you’ll silence the self-doubt and the critics.
Which piece of advice resonates with you most? Share in the comments below.