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.

If you’re not the person bringing ideas to the table…

If you’re not the person bringing ideas to the table, somebody else will.

Perhaps, but even if that’s true, the ideas somebody else shares won’t be the same as the ones you can. Because only you have seen the world through your eyes, with your mind. Only you understand, or have questions about, or are moved by, things unique to your experience.

We often forget that the bridge between the best idea and the rest, is perspective.

A result of believing this fallacy is that we either spend all of our energy seeking out an impossible “best” idea, or we don’t bother trying to think creatively to begin with. In both cases, we lose.

Nobody is asking you to come up with the best idea on that spot, that’s a myth perpetuated by fictional literature and cinema. Instead, what we’re asking you to do is to share your perspective, your original thought.

Even if somebody else could say something similar, come to a similar conclusion, or have a similar thought, it’s not the same, because it’s not from you.

Doodle by Luigi Mengato.

The most valuable ideas are the ones that get shared

You don’t have to share all the work you do. You can write without an audience. You can build without a customer. You can imagine, ruminate, and tinker, and do it all without ever intending to share your thoughts or ideas with another person.

That’s more than ok, embrace that from time-to-time.

But the only way to make ideas valuable (even for ourselves) is to get them out of our heads and out into the world where other people can interact with, question, tear apart, and build-upon them.

To turn our ideas from intangible “concepts” into something more malleable is certainly one part of the creative puzzle, but sharing our work and our ideas is too powerful to ignore or shy away from.

Sharing helps us by getting perspectives on the ideas or work that we otherwise couldn’t see. This is, of course, not always the case, but more often than not the feedback we get from sharing with someone else is enough to at least spark additional questions or ideas in our minds. Especially when the feedback is critical and attempts to poke holes in our way of thinking. We either walk away from that feedback with a better understanding of where we can improve the work or ideas, or we have additional ammunition for holding it up.

The enemy of all bad ideas isn’t very complex: it’s someone to talk to.

You don’t have to share what you create or your ideas as they come to you, but by doing so you give yourself a shortcut to perfecting them, to evolving them, to learning and growing.

Photo by Niklas Morberg.

The enemy of all bad ideas: someone to talk to

When it comes to ideas, quantity impacts quality: the more ideas you have, the more likely you are to have a good idea.

However, if you are going to avoid the trap of thinking that some of your bad ideas are actually good (which is a trap we all fall into from time-to-time), you need to have someone you can rely on for honest feedback.

We all have bad ideas. Einstein thought the universe was static. It may be worthwhile to try and have less bad ideas, but it’s futile to try and constantly have only good ones.

The reasons for bad ideas are often complex: we don’t fully understand the context of what our idea entails, we misunderstand it, we’re too optimistic about aspects of it, or we’re thinking too short-term or long-term about it.

One of those points creates a huge problem for even the most successful and intelligent among us: sometimes we don’t know when a bad idea is bad (and that’s bad). By fighting for a bad idea, or working diligently on an idea that is doomed from the start, we waste time, energy, and even a little piece of ourselves—in the form of ego.

To combat this common shortfall of identifying bad ideas, we need to get used to sharing our ideas early and often, at least to one other person we can rely on to give us open and honest feedback.

Author Scott Berkun details how explaining the reasoning behind an idea to someone else can help us identify holes in our thinking or reasons why the idea might be bad:

“Your best defense starts by breaking an argument down into pieces. When [you] say ‘It’s obvious…’ [They] say, 'Hold on. You’re way ahead of me. For me to follow I need to break this down into pieces.’ And without waiting for permission, [they] should go ahead and do so.”

Because the idea will be broken down into explorable chunks by the other person during discussion, it’s much more likely that logical problems or other issues with the idea will float to the surface.

Of course, this approach goes both ways: when someone approaches you with an idea, pause and take a moment to evaluate the reasoning behind it—breaking it down into smaller chunks you can easily understand, as necessary—in order to determine whether or not it’s really a good idea.

To better manage your bad ideas, find at least one reliable person you can count on to give you honest feedback on them and push you to develop them further when necessary or drop them when appropriate.

In any group, it’s your ideas that matter


There’s an awful stigma within creative groups, where you have to be the best in order to succeed.

Not even good enough or at least as good as those around you in the group. If you’re not contributing the most, having the biggest ideas, or making the most impact, you’re going to fail.

I’d argue it’s ok to be good enough.

To have only one out of 100 ideas accepted by the group, to have only one suggestion for the project implemented, or to be the only person focused on the pieces too small for anyone else in the group to pay attention to. Asking a lot of dumb questions, getting shrugged shoulders or rolled eyes, and bringing up things that nobody else is bringing up.

Research and real-world anecdotes have shown that collaboration thrives when the group consists of those with varying degrees of skill, talent, intelligence, and creativity.

Stick a bunch of geniuses or experts in a room and the result you’ll get is more of the same. A group of experts will only be able to see things as they’ve learned to see them in their years of experience, they lack the ability to see things in new ways. A similar issue comes up if you put a group of novices in a room: they don’t know what to look for, so they look everywhere or nowhere at the same time.

Undoubtedly the best type of collaboration comes from mixing the experts and top-of-the-class (those with a detailed knowledge of the topic, or with innate talents and abilities) with the novices (those with new eyes from which to see the work).

Why then do we insist on letting the stigma exist?

You don’t have to be the best, or the worst, to be of value to the group or team you work in. You just have to be willing to speak-up, participate, and let nothing prevent you from doing so. Especially not your own inner fear that what you have to say is worthless, silly, or otherwise invaluable. Because no matter where you see at around the table of experience or talent, your input can be just what the team needs to see things from a different perspective.

We as creatives must embrace this notion of naivety as valuable.

For the group: this means welcoming ideas and input from even the most quiet and new members of the team. For us as individuals: this means not being afraid to speak-up or put in effort, even when we feel like our efforts won’t be as valuable as others in the group.

“It takes someone…constantly nagging, asking disruptive questions, to get people to take a fresh look at their assumptions.” – Stuart Lindsay

Read this next: The power of naive questions