Never ever try to think of a great idea ever again


GolfIf I was to play golf, never having played it before, and made the statement, “If I’m going to play this game, I only want to get hole-in-ones'”. What would happen when I teed off?

If I was going to be a photographer, having just equipped myself with an expensive digital SLR camera and I made the statement, “I’m only going to take great photos.” How many photos would I take?

If I was going to train as a research scientist and made the statement, “I’m only going to engage in ground-breaking research.” What new discoveries would I make?

The answers are of course that the odds are stacked incredibly high against being successful in any of the three. I wouldn’t hit a hole-in-one. I’d take one or two photographs before realising that my photos were rubbish and I’d feel a massive sense of under-achievement in the laboratory as I worked on mundane run-of-the-mill tests.

In each of these examples you have to do things badly to start with and then you get better. It’s obvious. So why, when it comes to generating ideas do we expect and somehow think we’re capable, of having great ideas without having lots of not-so-great ideas first? It’s like trying for the hole-in-one, you’re basically relying on random chance – you’re not playing the game.

Never, ever, ever, ever try to think of a good or great idea ever again. Unless you want to waste time and fail, that is. We need to understand that to be creative and generate earth-shatteringly brilliant ideas we need to set off trying to think of IDEAS, not great ideas. There is a subtle difference. By trying to think of great ideas you are starting off with judgemental thinking. To know that you’ve just thought of a great idea means that you’re verifying, critisising and evaluating the idea as soon as it is formed. This means you’re still locked into critical thinking, which we know, doesn’t have access to your full potential. You’re cutting out the creative driver of the process.

It’s hard to cut out critical thinking. We’re programmed to think that way. This means we’ll find it very difficult to just think of ‘ideas’ instead of ‘great ideas’, postponing the evaluation till the brainstorming session is over. To get over this, the secret is to deliberately think of bad ideas. By bad ideas I mean really, really bad ones.

Think of your most pressing problem at the moment. Can you think of 21 stupid, bad, rubbish and surreal ways to solve the problem? Think of ways that could make the problem worse. The aim here is to deliberately be unconstructive. This will help keep judgement and analysis at bay and will also open up the mind to possibilities (giving your mind permission to ‘think out of the box’). Your critical thinking brain will eventually just give up, allowing right brain possibility thinking to take over and start making some really unusual connections. You’ll find this tough too. I don’t think you’ll be able to do it, you’ll be so locked into left brain critical thinking mode.Try to prove me wrong and list 21 really bad ideas. Some people censor their thoughts so much they won’t be able to even attempt this. Remember, I’m not asking you to actually DO them – just think of them.

Then go back over the list. Notice what further ideas are triggered from the bad ones. Perhaps by ‘inverting’ a bad idea it becomes an idea so wonderfully good that you would never have considered had you not freed yourself from critical thinking.

Keep thinking the impossible and the ridiculous. If you think only about sensible ideas and search only for the perfect idea then you’ll also fail to come up with anything new. The route to genius does not lie on the often travelled path. Keep deliberately thinking of stupid, preposterous and truly ridiculous ideas (and write them all down). These open up new routes for your mind to explore and find new answers.

See if you can do it.

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6 comments on “Never ever try to think of a great idea ever again

  1. Ayd

    As always great food for thought. I realise now I spend too much time trying to think about the best idea to write about and doing a lot of waiting!. I shall go way and write this afternoon about the first thing I think of and just get practising!

    Thank you

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  2. You see Ayd, this is why I should never have read any books on how to do things properly.
    How to take pictures properly, how to write good lyrics.
    A friend once warned me on editing – in the sense of critically reviewing what you create –
    “Be careful, you might edit yourself completely out of the picture”

    Can we start a wiki of really bad ideas – a resource to debunk the critic in our brains.
    I’ve looked, well googled a bit, and there doesn’t appear to be one.

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  3. Ayd,

    Your words are so refreshingly simple yet, brilliant!

    Thank you, for giving me permission to make my mistakes.
    As it’s in so doing, that I will free my mind and discover the genius within.

    Thank you!
    Celine :-))

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  4. I love this! You phrase the dilemma so well. And it had never occurred to me before to purposefully think of bad ideas. So, I’ve made a start. I’ve come up with 11 so far. It’s really really fun! 😀

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  5. Tim Beckwith… I’ve looked, well googled a bit, and there doesn’t appear to be one.
    I’ve giggled about it a bit, and can’t imagine how it would be if there were one… ;o)

    Nice idea in this blog post, BTW. I used to hang out with an old b/f who thought that if an idea occurred to him, it was like cream rising to the top. His ideas came to him in a hierarchy, the “best” first. I used to tease him about it all the time. He knew I wasn’t as “smart” as he was…why could I keep coming up with ideas when he ran dry? I was using anything that worked to get the ranking away from the thinking!

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