Twenty years ago it would have been absurd to think a telephone would ever make for a good camera. But here we are, billions of us walking around with small phones slash cameras slash super computer in our pockets.
The way we got here wasn’t through ignoring the absurd. Nor was the world of today made possible because of one person, or one technological achievement. What happened was the story of what a phone could be eventually aligned with what was possible and needed. But if we had never wondered whether or not a phone would make for a good camera, or internet browser, or supercomputer, who knows where we’d be.
The same is true for the airplane. The tenacity of the Wright brothers to keep throwing themselves off a hill to prove engine-assisted flight was not only crazy, but possible, propelled the travel world into an age of remarkable innovation. Imagine trying to tell someone from the Middle Ages that people in 2016 were flying literally around the world and they’d appropriately tell you: humans can’t fly, the idea is asinine.
Creativity requires us to sometimes be absurd. New ideas rarely come from what we already know as true and possible. Instead, the most creative ideas are born of absurdity and happenstance. When the timing is right, even the most ridiculous idea becomes palpable.
The problem for us as creative thinkers is first exploring what absurd ideas have yet to be explored, then identifying when they’ll become possible. The trap is that the more of an expert you become on the landscape around an idea, the more inclined you are to ignore the absurdities. The Wright brothers got their start working on bicycles and printing presses.
To truly embrace the absurd ideas required to think creatively, we must embrace our naivety and often run head-first into the unknown. Rather than brushing off otherwise silly sounding ideas, or doubting ourselves whenever we have them, we’d be wise to look at the ideas and ask ourselves: why this, why now? More often than not what we get when we dive into the absurd instead of immediately brushing it off is insight. Insight into why an idea isn’t realistically possible, what it would take to make it possible, or how to adapt what we know and the resources we have to make it a reality.
This is the power of the creative. They aren’t afraid of embracing the absurd, because they know that’s where all great ideas really come from eventually.
What are the absurd ideas you’ve shunned? What if you stopped doubting them and instead began exploring them?