The myth of ideas

I’ve come to despise merely talking about ideas. Don’t get me wrong, ideas are essential to every meaningful thing that has ever graced humanity. But that’s like saying that the sun is the reason for to every significant thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind. No sun, no grass, no cow, no beef burger, no man doing something awesome.

People who are obsessed with ideation are like people who spend all their days staring at the sun and talking about the sun; only, ideas are far more enticing. The predominant hook that drags you along is you’ll is the word “potential”.

Potential, potential, potential. If your social group is anything like mine, you’ll be served a gratituous dose of Steve Jobbery, Mark Zuckerish and Googology on how an idea made them successful. If you’re a little more advanced in your years, you’ll have the likes of the 3M post-it and Kodak as references.

The enticement of ideas comes from simple math. Outcome minus cost equals gain. Result divided by effort equals degree of success. The again, divided by 0 is infinity. So apparent “potential” that comes from an idea is typically made out to be unreasonably and outrageously huge. Think of the phrase “it all started with an idea” for a moment, the way most people read it is “they started with nothing, and now they’re multi-million-billion dollar, userbase, bla bla bla…”. Dad always said that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. He was referring to the oldest trick in the con-man’s manual, and he was teaching his kids not to be greedy and gullible.

Here’s what I think of the hyperbole of ideation.

It’s almost as though all the successful enterprises got together and conspired to hide the secret to their success. Everyone agreed never to tell of the blood, sweat, late nights, despair and agony it took to get there. Instead, they’ll all tell the same tale of how one fateful morning, an idea dropped in their mind, how fragile it was, how they almost missed it but a chain of fateful events caused them to revisit it; and that is how they became successful. Genius: because it will occupy the minds of every sucker in suspended disbelief, while the gap between watchers and mover-shakers widens.

It’s not like we don’t already know what it takes: one part inspiration, ninty-nine parts perspiration, make something people want, spend less than you get. But none of that is exciting; doesn’t sound “innovative” enough, because we want a magic pill served up on a silver platter, and a good story to tell our friends.

Well keep thinking that while the rest of us take our one part idea and mix it in with ninety-nine boring execution parts. You’ll be one less person standing in our way.

On Reflection

As a somewhat unplanned sequel to an earlier entry Consuming vs Producing, I’ve come to discover an extremely crucial but largely invisible process called reflection.

Just over the weekend, I had the privilege of sitting in on a discussion about how the Christian biblical text is still relevant to the modern day human being. Putting aside all religious and moral connotations, what struck me most is the way engaging the text opens up a fertile space for personal reflection. The speaker stated it far more poetically – “finding yourself in the text”.

While I wouldn’t be so brash to claim that the biblical text is the sole and ultimate text for personal reflection, such a thought has open my eyes to this process of reflection that sits squarely between consumption and production. Input and output if you will.

Within the bounds of reflection lies our truest most present state; and by existing between in and out, it stands to bear the full brunt of everything that passes through. Think of reflection as a footbridge that spans two divides: all the good and evil that we’re impressed by, and all the things that we express.

The really tricky thing about reflection is how unassuming it is. Perhaps by nature, or more likely because we’ve learned to squelch this very potent process. If you’re anything like me, you’d have guard houses set up on both sides of the bridge. On the “in” side, sifting through events and ideas that we allow to pass, depositing their footprints; on the “out” end, filtering the things that we expose to the external world.

So why the big deal about such an ethereal concept?

Because these is the arena where good and evil duels. It is in this place that the human condition triumphs or topples over in shameful defeat. I might even go so far as to claim that reflection is the portal through which inspiration enters the tangible world as we know it.

Try something old

Here’s a weekend idea for the our ADD generation.

Don’t learn a new programming language, or another framework, or try another to-do list tutorial. Don’t try a new dinner place or a new recipe. Don’t start on another new idea. Don’t buy a new domain name. Don’t redesign your blog. Don’t sign up for a new social networking account. For goodness sake, don’t update your online profile.

Instead, try something old. Give it another go. Dust off that old startup idea. Do something a second time. Write part two of your blog series. Refine that recipe. Finish that book. Have coffee at that old café you stopped patronizing after you broke up two years ago. Trying adopting that noble habit again.

Because good things take time, and ‘new’ is an overrated knee-jerk reaction for our generation.