bad ideas

Ideas are for sharing, not sheltering

Too often we hide our ideas out of fear they might break or be torn apart before they’ve had a chance to shine. We want our ideas to be perfectly polished before we share them with anyone, before we line them up in front of what could very well be a firing squad. We fear criticism and judgement and the possibility that our ideas aren’t as great as we want them to.

Where does this fear come from and is it possible the feeling of wanting to shelter our ideas is not entirely rational?

If we think of our ideas as reflections of ourselves—our capabilities, our beliefs, our IQ—then of course it’s going to be scary to expose them to others. The last thing any of us want is to be told we’re not capable, that our beliefs are wrong, or that we overlooked something obvious. We don’t want to be dumb or wrong, so we shelter our ideas until we’ve had a chance to ensure they’re “good enough.”

The trick is that ideas are never good enough until they face the light of other perspectives and opinions. Any idea can be viewed as good if it exists only within your head. It’s when the idea gets let loose in the world that it has a chance to grow, strengthen, and evolve.

When we step back and see our ideas as being their own objects, not pieces of ourselves or our intelligence, it becomes easier to share them.

And sharing our ideas matters because, despite what our fears may make us believe, when ideas are hammered and cut and torn apart they inevitably end up becoming stronger, not weaker.

The reality is that our ideas can never be destroyed, every idea you have is nearly indestructible. Once you’ve had a really good idea, it isn’t going to go anywhere. The idea will stay with you in some form or another, in the recesses of the complex biological machine that is your brain.

Our ideas simply cannot be destroyed. Just ask anyone with a strong political or religious idea, or consider the last time a catchy song got stuck in your head. Once an idea takes hold in your mind, it’s hard to get rid of it.

What happens when we expose our ideas is they don’t get destroyed, they evolve. That evolution is the process that makes ideas worthwhile, real, not merely imaginary beliefs sheltered within the confines of our imaginations.

When we expose our ideas to criticism and feedback the ideas don’t really get destroyed or damaged, they strengthen and grow. What can happen is ideas change, shaped by the opinions and information we get from others. And these changes may weaken *our* initial perspective or vision of an idea, but the fundamental idea will still be there in the foundation of whatever new or different ideas come from the feedback we get. Better, faster, bigger, stronger. If we’re open to the feedback.

And, of course, we have to remember that the feedback we get on our ideas isn’t feedback on us. We are not our ideas; our ideas are our ideas. And they need the ability to distance themselves from us if they’re to really grow.

Nothing happens with your ideas if you shelter them. If you wait for perfection you’ll be waiting your whole life. Instead: speed up the process of improving your ideas by getting them out into the world where they’ll have a chance to improve and expand based on the feedback they incur.



Why good ideas sometimes fail

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.



Facing the fear that you may not be that creative and all your ideas are bad

Nearly every idea I have feels bland or stale.

Some of my ideas have been bad. But have all of them, all of my ideas and all of my projects, been so… uncreative? Some of my writing has certainly felt repetitive or seemingly outdated. Some of my artwork has felt boring and unoriginal. Most of my ideas strike me as “not all that great” on their face.

And, sometimes, when I write an idea down, or start writing an article, or open Photoshop to design, I stop myself before I even get started on the idea. Why? Because I feel that the idea is just not creative enough. What’s the point?

This, this moment of pause and stepping back in the creative process, is what’s become known as the Lizard Brain. Maybe you’re familiar with the term, maybe you’re not.

The gist of these moments is this: there’s a part of our brain that has been around since the time we resembled lizards. It’s the part of our brain that makes us want to run away any time we’re faced with something new, or different, or challenging.

When we have an idea or start a project but take just a second longer to think about what it is we’re actually doing, we realize that we could fail, or that the idea pales in comparison to others that exist. We doubt our capabilities or what our individual purpose is as an artist, or photographer, or writer, or dancer, or musician, or student.

We experience this a lot as creatives, no matter where we are at in our career. Even professionals sit down in front of the computer, or canvas, or stage, and think to themselves: “This is garbage, I can’t do this.” I know I feel that way a lot.

It’s important to recognize these moments, because what we do next is what sets us apart as true artists, writers, and makers.

The amateur – the “wanna-be” – stops whenever they feel the feeling that they’re not that creative. They give up. They put the notebook, or canvas, or computer away and turn on the TV instead. It’s easy to lay in front of the couch and watch something somebody else has created. It’s much, much more difficult to say “fuck it” and try the idea anyway.

But doing that – feeling the fear and doing the work regardless – is what makes our efforts worthwhile.

Even if the idea isn’t all that creative after-all, even if nobody notices at first, even if you fail… after long enough of pursuing the work (and feeling the fear of failing or being an impostor but doing the work anyway), people start to notice; we start to notice ourselves.

And after enough of that type of work a funny thing happens: we become exactly what we wanted to be. We become the writer, or the designer, or the business person, or the creative guy or gal. Because what do those people do but write, or design, or run the business, or have ideas?

Being creative isn’t about having the best, world-changing ideas, or making the type of work that gets rave reviews from millions of people. Being creative is about having the ideas and starting the work, feeling afraid that you might fail or that you have no idea what you’re doing, and doing it anyway.

When I feel myself start to shutter and shake at the thought of writing another article, starting another project, or touting myself as someone who thinks creatively, I have to remind myself to do it anyway. Because that’s just what we do.



How to identify ideas that won’t stink

Creativity is all about coming up with new, innovative ideas, right?

Actually, coming up with new ideas is only half of what creativity is about. Another - huge - part of creativity is being able to identify which ideas are great, and which are not so great. But being able to identify which ideas won’t stink is just as difficult as coming up with new ideas; unless, of course, you know what to look for in your creative ideas.

Looking for specific traits in your creative ideas is necessary to sniffing out ideas that won’t stink. And even though all creative ideas have the potential to be truly great, some ideas are better than others right off the bat. Here are a few traits you should look for when trying to identify ideas that won’t stink:

The original idea begs for further investigation. Whenever you come up with an idea that is easy to ignore - or move on from - then you know you have an idea that will eventually stink. But when you come up with an idea that just keeps nagging you at the back of the head, go with your instincts and work with the idea. Ideas that beg further investigation immediately are ideas that will intrigue others, and that means success on multiple levels.

The idea makes something easier for somebody. If you look at some of the biggest and best ideas of all time, you’ll recognize something they all have in common: they made something easier for someone. When you think up an idea that makes something easier for somebody, it’s best to run with that idea. At least somebody will appreciate it.

The idea seems so simple. Creative ideas that won’t stink are ones that should have been thought up years ago. When you look at paintings, machines, books, and websites that make you slap your head and say “duh”, you are looking at ideas that are great because they just make sense. If your creative idea appears to just make sense - and it seems so simple - then go with it. Simple ideas are the ones that people relate to and, as such, don’t stink. Don’t think that your idea is too simple, it’s safe to bet that it’s an idea that won’t stink.

The idea doesn’t create more problems. At the base of creativity is problem solving; ideas that create problems are ideas that stink. Any idea that doesn’t create more problems is probably a great idea, and if the idea doesn’t create problems and it matches other attributes listed here, chances are that it is a truly remarkable idea.

The idea is recognizable by others. As creative beings, we often think highly of ideas we come up with on our own… even if they stink. Getting other people’s feedback on ideas is a foolproof way to identify whether or not an idea will stink. If others can’t recognize the potential of your idea, it is most likely a stinky idea. But if other people look at, or hear about, your idea and recognize its value, it is definitely a great idea. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with people you trust, just be weary of people who might want to take your ideas as their own.

The idea is expandable. A lot of ideas are just that: ideas. They never become anything more because they don’t have ways to expand. Making sure that your idea is expandable is a good way to make sure it won’t stink. If you have the means to make your idea a reality, then it’s a good idea. Otherwise, it may be an stinky idea that will never become anything more than just a stinky idea.

Being able to identify which creative ideas are great, and which ideas stink, is clearly valuable to you as a creative person. Keep in mind that these are only a few ways to identify an idea that won’t stink, and - as mentioned before - all ideas have potential to be great. If your ideas beg for further investigation, if they make something easier than it previously was, if they seem to be simple, if they don’t cause more problems, if they are expandable, and if other people recognize value in them, then your ideas aren’t stinky; however, if your idea doesn’t fit with any of the traits mentioned here, you may want to try out a different idea or approach.