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Articles tagged “ideas”

Why good ideas sometimes fail

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Poor ideas are often poor because the circumstances around them haven’t been fully explored.

As a result: we believe the idea itself is bad despite the fact the surrounding circumstances or environment are the factors that are actually bad.

We see examples of this often in history: the invention of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone only came to fruition after many other inventors tried doing something similar. One of the crucial elements their telephone systems lacked which Bell did not was the state of electromagnetic transmitters and receivers.

For example, 42 years before Bell was able to create an electronic, working telephone, Antonio Meucci had already created a working system of communicating between a stage and control room of a theatre using a pipe-telephone system.

In 1854, 22 years before Bell patented his telephone design, inventor Charles Bourseul had already imagined the ideal communication system. Bourseul wrote: “Suppose that a man speaks near a movable disc sufficiently flexible to lose none of the vibrations of the voice; that this disc alternately makes and breaks the currents from a battery: you may have at a distance another disc which will simultaneously execute the same vibrations…. It is certain that, in a more or less distant future, speech will be transmitted by electricity.”

Bourseul’s words describe almost perfectly what Bell later ended-up creating.

It’s worth noting that at nearly the exact same time (some argue even before) as Bell’s invention of the telephone, Elisha Gray created the same system but lost the patent to Bell and his team later on.

The telephone, as Meucci, Bourseul, Gray, Bell, and countless others before them envisioned, was absolutely a good idea. But it wasn’t until Gray and Bell had access to the modern technologies that would make the telephone so elegant to design, as well as ideally functional, that the idea came to fruition.

When considering our own ideas, we must consider the circumstances that allow it or hinder it to become a successful reality. When possible: changing the concept to meet what is possible today can turn the idea into more of a worthwhile endeavor.

A simpler example of this point is the concept of a time machine: Building a time machine is a poor idea because it’s not realistically feasible to do today. We simply don’t understand enough about time or space to create any type of machine that would allow us to travel through it.

It’s a fun idea, but certainly not a feasible one, therefore it would be ridiculous to dedicate oneself to working on a time machine today. Or would it?

By looking at the answers as to why an idea isn’t feasible, we can improve the idea itself as well as predict how it might change in the future.

Similar to how Bourseul predicted that the telephone which Bell would create years later would function through electromagnetic pulses.

To put this concept into practice we simply need to look at our own ideas, particularly ones we may have tried working on but failed.

When we look at those ideas and ask “why” they failed, we begin to shine light onto the circumstances that made it so. We may, in our exploration of reasons, realize the idea was actually good and worthwhile, simply unfeasible at the time.

Sometimes the process of asking and answering “why” means the idea evolves into something unexpected. As artists, inventors, and creators, we need to be open to following that rabbit hole wherever it may lead.

To look at our ideas and ask “why might this fail today?” we can either predict how they might succeed in the future, but we can also begin to see where we can make changes to the idea in order for it to succeed today.

When you’re faced with an idea that seems less-than-great, try asking yourself why it feels that way (then keep asking “why”). You’ll wind-up in a place where the idea makes more sense and is feasible.

Read this next: Creativity as intelligence and day dreaming

Dream photo by Moyan Brenn. Lego time machine photo by Alex Eylar.



What’s the best way to become more creative?

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This is a snippet from an answer I posted to Quora:

There are a lot of ways to “become more creative!” Many of these have been explored by researchers, writers, artists, and educators alike.

We know, for example, that being groggy and having your head in the clouds can lead to having more creative insights (Daydream your way to creativity).

Though it’s important to note that the best creative insights that come from daydreaming are often the result of a period of intense focus just before your mind wanders off (Where Do Eureka Moments Come From?).

Another great technique to spark creativity is to circumvent the regular self-editing parts of your brain, either by waking up 30 minutes to an hour earlier than you usually do (How Interrupting Your Sleep Can Silence Your Doubts and Boost Your Creativity) or by trying free writing exercises (The ways writing helps improve your thinking). Anything you can do to get ideas out—onto paper or otherwise—without much internal debate can lead to greater insights, in theory. This makes sense, since the best ideas often come as a result of having many ideas (though we often do realize this, since our minds are editing and filtering the ideas before our consciousness has time to acknowledge them)….

Which brings us to the meat of your question: what’s the best way to become more creative?

Tricky question with a somewhat discouraging answer, unfortunately. But this is true! It seems the absolutely, scientifically-backed, research-tested, personally tried way to become more creative is to…

Read the full answer right here on Quora.



Learning how to start something creative is more important than learning how to perfect it

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Many of my articles here are centered around doing anything to move an idea or project forward.

Why isn’t the focus more on the importance of perfecting an idea or project, rather than the repetitive notion of simply getting started?

The reason I insist that we, as artists and writers and designers, focus on simply getting the work out the door is that it’s undoubtedly the biggest struggle we each face. Even experts and professionals struggle to get their ideas moving.

Action is an ongoing battle.

Of course, perfection is a battle too, but one that can only come once there’s something to perfect.

Yes, perfection is something to aim for, but to perfect something you first need to create it, and to create it you need to take those first steps. How can you perfect what doesn’t exist in the first place? How can you know what to change or improve if there’s nothing in front of you?

The challenges we face are primarily in overcoming the fear of failure, of feeling like an impostor, of feeling like our efforts are worthwhile, all at the very beginning of a project. Face those fears, fight the battle of starting something, and you can move onto perfecting it. You’ll learn more about what you’re capable of by starting something than you will of fine-tuning it.

Rather than starting a project with an eye on the center of the target, it’s much more rewarding to start a project with the sole intent of propelling it forward.

Worry about getting started, taking the first few steps. Only after you’ve moved the needle should you start to think of making something ideal or perfect.

Read this next: All you need is five minutes to do creative work

Photo by John Trainor.



How creating mental blocks from curiosity, and knocking them down, can spark creative ideas

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“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

This quote from Pablo Picasso has always intrigued me.

What does it mean to work for inspiration? Is it enough to spend time browsing the web in search of some spark? Or does the work need to be of a more difficult kind?

I found a similar quote this afternoon, from the great Greek ruler Leonidas, that may give us some additional insights. He said:

“Action produces the appetite for more action.”

This, I believe, is a crucial key to getting creatively unstuck. It’s when we stop working that our ability to think creatively also stops. So the two – thinking creatively and taking action – are undoubtedly linked.

There are then two ways of looking at this: the first is to say that we must have a problem to solve or a project to move forward on in order to give ourselves the momentum to think creatively in the first place.

In other words: it’s difficult to drum up ideas if there isn’t a purpose to doing so.

The other way of looking at this advice is that, when we feel the least creative – the least to do creative work or have new ideas – the best thing to do is anything actionable.

We can think of our brains like domino machines, and when we get creatively stuck it’s because there isn’t a block in front of us to knock down.

The solution becomes easy to identify when we view creative thinking from these perspectives: put a metaphorical block down in front of you and follow it as it continues to knock others down.

I could throw in a dozen more quotes here about how this relates to creativity being about “just connecting things.”

To be creative, and to do creative work, we have to ensure there’s a constant setup of blocks in front of us (to knock down, or connect, or whatever verb works best for you).

Here’s an example of how to use this information in order to get ideas flowing:

Go to Google.com and start typing a question, something actionable. Type “How do I”, or “Learn how to”, or “How do you” or something like that.

The results will be surprising, most likely. Topics will appear like: how to tie a tie, or how to do a backflip, or how to do crafts, or how to make the best french toast. I have never tried to do a backflip, but I wonder what it takes to learn.

These topics are our starting block. It’s time to knock one down and see what comes after it. So follow one of the ideas, maybe it’s learning how to tie a new knot or how your favorite candy is made or how to do backflips.

As you learn about the topic you can start to relate it to others: the work you’re doing or another topic that popped-up when you did your original search (as we’ll get into again in a moment).

Allow yourself to be curious about the topic.

Ask questions and follow them online, in a notebook, or just in your mind: is it easier to do a backflip off of something? How does doing a backflip under water impact your ability to do it out of water? Who do you think first invented the backflip? How many people are hurt each year as a result of doing a backflip?

The more you dive into these topics and follow them, the more questions you should have. As you dive into the answers to those questions you’ll find yourself discovering and uncovering new topics to follow as well.

Congratulations: you’ve started the process of action. This, according to Picasso and Leonidas, is a crucial step toward thinking creatively.

All you have to do now is link the topics to your work: How is thinking creatively like doing a backflip? If you tried to flip an idea around like a backflip, what difficulties would you face?

If you’re stuck, take action: setup the blocks in front of you that can lead to new and curious ideas.

Read this next: Why we get stuck

Photo by David Pacey.



All my best ideas come from just okay ideas.

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Know a good idea when you see one

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How do you ever really know if an idea is worthwhile or not?

Nobody can really tell for sure. I certainly couldn’t tell you.

It seems that the best thing to do is have a purpose or a goal on which to evaluate your ideas. The goal can be anything: to write the book outline, to doodle the plan, to tap out a rhythm, then do what it takes to accomplish that goal.

With a goal in place, any idea that meets or exceeds that marker can be identified as a good one.

This way there’s no confusion, no wondering. The idea is good – no matter what it looks like, how it works, or how far away it is from what you originally envisioned – because it accomplishes what you set out for it to do.

One of the best ways to determine whether an idea is a good one or not isn’t whether it fails. It’s whether you created what you set out to do, whether someone (somewhere) connects to the idea, and whether you keep being drawn to it in some way or another.

If you can address all of those things and the idea doesn’t seem sound, it’s time to consider that all of the other factors – the environment, the presentation, the timing – may be off, not the idea itself.