Recently, I had the chance to sit down at a local watering hole with an idea that was passing through town by way of something called the “collective conscious” via the “zeitgeist ” and “dumb luck.” We talked about the life of an idea; the good, the bad and the “meh.” Here is an excerpt from our meeting.
Hello, um… Mister…er…uh.
Please, just call me Idea!
Certainly. So Idea, tell us how you got started.
Funny you should ask. The shower.
Yep. The shower. Nothing fancy, mind you… one of those flimsy fiberglass standup things. Pretty standard. No tub. No fancy showerhead or anything; just the essentials. You know, a lot of us start out in the shower.
Oh yeah. But you can find ideas just about anywhere, really.
I see that you have a pretty impressive pedigree.
Yeah. I try not to toot my horn, but I come from a long line of ideas—the wheel, plumbing, the light bulb… ice cream… beer… The Snuggie. Not the kind where you hike up the underwear…
A.K.A. “The Wedgie.”
(laughs) Now that’s actually kind of a GOOD bad idea. Classic. But, yeah, you know what I mean, good stuff.
Ideas don’t have much of a reputation for longevity. In fact, isn’t it true that the life expectancy is quite short?
Absolutely. Ideas die all the time—good and bad. Some are just bad from the start, like the Ford Pinto, the leisure suit, lead paint…
What about ideas that start out good and…
(sighs) …go bad… yeah… like lawn darts, great idea, in theory, just not the safest recreational activity. Anyway, sometimes ideas just can’t be saved. A lot of times, they really don’t even stand a chance from the get go. They don’t get the attention or the love and nurturing they need. They’re just these half-formed things; more like a notion than an idea. Then there are times when a good idea gets in with the wrong crowd. Yeah…so much wasted potential. Then, even still there are times where they get so much attention to the point of getting smothered.
Smothered. People with good intentions, who don’t know when to leave well enough alone. It usually doesn’t happen all at once. It’s little things at first. They start trying to change the idea, or start fusing a bunch of parts of other ideas onto the one idea until the idea looks nothing like it did to begin with.
That sounds terrible. In this day and age, how is something like this allowed to happen?
When you really think about it, you can usually boil the root cause down to one word, fear.
Yeah. Fear. New ideas are scary, you know. Scary ideas make people uncomfortable. But what folks don’t realize is that when an idea is scary, that’s probably what makes it good. That’s what makes them stick in people’s head. People are built to notice the difference in things. It’s a survival instinct. It’s how the human species has propagated. New ideas are different, different is interesting and interesting gets a response.
So back to what you were saying about ideas being scary, what happens next?
Right. So they start trying to cover up what scares them with other ideas that are more comfortable and familiar. Maybe it’s, “Let’s just do that one idea like the one idea we did before. Or, “What about that other idea we saw that those other guys did? Yeah, let’s do an idea just like that.” Yikes. Have you ever seen an idea after a focus group? Or after getting up in front of a big committee?
I can’t say that I have.
Yeesh. It’s not a pretty sight. It’s a crime scene. But it’s kind of a blessing in disguise when an idea gets killed right then and there. How can an idea go on like that after all that poking and prodding and moving stuff around?
It must be difficult.
That’s an understatement. One of my best friends was killed recently. He wanted me to kill him, you know, mercy killing, put him out of his misery. He had lost the will to live. You know what their last words were? Five words: “Don’t…let them…overthink…you.” And then he was gone… Just. Like. That.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
Aw, you know, you have to get used to it, especially when it happens all the time.
Now, you’ve talked about good ideas and bad ideas. What about ideas that…
…that just sort of look like every other idea?
You know what’s great about the bad ideas and the ideas that are just there? It makes the good ones stand out.
Now there’s a novel idea. Standing out.
No kidding. Ideas should inspire and give hope. They should improve people’s lives and change the way people think. Ideas should change the way they feel, and sometimes they can even change the way people act and live.
So. Let’s say I come across an idea. Any advice?
If you see a good idea, sometimes it’s best to get out of the way. You have to kind of decide. Sometimes you have to just give them room to breathe and grow. Other times, you really have to nurse them along and protect them. And here’s another thing, never underestimate the goose bump factor or your gut reaction. An idea starts with a thought, but a good idea is made with feeling.
Idea, I appreciate you taking the time to share your—
Indeed. It’s been a pleasure.
I take it we will be seeing more of you in the future?
You bet. I’m usually not too far away. You just have to stay on your toes and pay close attention. If all else fails try looking in the shower.
We concluded our interview, made our pleasantries. I reached to pick up my drink for a fraction of a second, and when I looked up, the idea was gone. Vanished into thin air. And that’s the funny thing with ideas; you’ve got to grab them when you have them. You’ve got to make them real or they’ll find someone else who’s paying attention.