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The Responsibility of Ideas

When I was in elementary school I started writing and sketching ideas onto pieces of paper or in my homework diary. There was the design for a fort on the abandoned lot in our neighbourhood. Ways to throw firecrackers onto passing cars while hiding in the tree above our road. A comedy sketch for our school play. Ways to woo my latest crush (chocolate hidden in her pencil bag). Surf moves to try when I’m next on a wave. Products that would sell well at the next school market day. Thoughts on how to survive a crocodile attack. Designs for a DIY kite made from refuse bags and controlled via a fishing rod and a volcano made from clay putty. The ability to come up with ideas, solutions, or practicing creativity is innate for a child.

As kids we’re allowed to explore our imagination, to ‘play’. We have free time, interests, questions, problems that need solutions (where I grew up crocodiles were very much a thing!) and things like failure or scrutiny are fairly low impact because you’re not expected to come up with good ideas, you’re just a kid.

Somewhere along the line some of us keep and even foster our creative ability. Others suppress this innate talent – it’s usually a teacher, parent or peer that makes us feels shame on some level and as a kid you just have very little context or ability to deal with that emotion. So you stop exploring, creating, imagining or coming up with ideas. 

When I’ve spoken to groups or individuals about the importance of creativity and idea generation inside their role or company it’s often feared. We don’t want to confront our idea generation demons, risk ridicule or give up our identity as ‘not being a creative person’. Even the role of ‘innovation’ is outsourced to a consultancy, executive committee or some ‘guru’, which is a joke, since the most valuable innovations often come from the most ‘unlikely’ people inside your organisation. 

But back to you. Idea practice. James Altucher uses a waiter pad and writes down 10 ideas every day. This practice not only forces you to confront inevitable failure (bad ideas) but it also allows you permission to explore your mind and create solutions (sometimes good ideas) for problems – every day. I have my own daily idea practice and believe it’s one of the most valuable things I do every day. It’s not that I’m coming up with greatness, but I am solidifying the belief and muscle of being creative. You might not need to design the next Sistine Chapel or iPhone but you are going to have to problem solve something, soon. That’s really the value or practicing creativity. The ability you build as a problem solver. Because let’s face it, life will throw some fucking problems at you now and then.

The last hurdle I needed to overcome after establishing my idea practice was around what to do with these ideas once I had written them down. I would find myself coming up with bad, average, good, or brilliant ideas, and weeks would go by before I did something constructive about them. So I started applying a forcing function. I thought about how much value my specific idea(s) would create in the lives of others. Once you pass a certain point of external value for others there’s this overwhelming sense of responsibility or duty that you just HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS IDEA so that others benefit. This strategy might not work if you’re a selfish asshole, so if you’re that way inclined just think about all the value that you would create for yourself and you should see a similar level of motivation to go do something. You have a responsibility to create your own idea practice and to take those valuable ideas out into the world. I hope you do!