This isn’t a post about ideas being a dime a dozen. While that might just be true, I wanted to pose a slightly more radical thesis — that not only are ideas as common as badly fitting promotional t-shirts but that individual ideas have little baring at all on whether you create something great.
Think about the last great inspiration you had that actually went somewhere. When you look at the end product, how close is it to the spark that initially birthed it? For my part, I’ll tell you right now that whatever this post ends up looking like by the last revision, it will be at least 70 degrees different than whatever was rattling around inside when head at the start. That’s because ideas, in and of themselves, only serve to give us the motivation to start tinkering.
The world is complex, projects are complex, and the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. Implicitly we all know this, that is why we spend so much time flipping the switches and turning the dials on our projects as we drive them towards their conclusion.
We change things bit by bit, slowly but surely. Since it’s hard to recognize changes that occur so slowly, we tend to rewrite history, convincing ourselves that the final product is exactly what we had in mind from the start.
By now you can probably see that my thesis is a touch incomplete. Ideas do matter, just not the ones we spend so much of our time protecting. The ideas that matter are the small changes we make to projects to help them get over hurdles.
The ideas that matter are the tiny, incremental shifts and casual improvements that we ignore because we are so focused on the grand vision. The ideas that matter are the cheap, dirty bits of genius that we pass off as common and unimportant — it’s thousands of these kinds of ideas that transform our desire to create something into creation.
It’s time to stop waiting around for the perfect idea to show up at your doorstep because that idea just doesn’t exist. Ideas are messy and no matter how perfect it might seem at first blush, by the time you put ink to page there is a pretty good chance it will have spun wildly out of control. Instead, spend some cycles trying to find an idea that you can put some weight behind and then spend the rest of your time changing that kernel of inspiration into something that can actually work.