Creativity, ideas, and lightbulbs

By Geoff Muskett

Taking on a creative task is scary. It’s scary because we don’t have the answers upfront. And theres no certainty that we’re going to reach the right answer. Or if there even is a right answer.

Often there’s not.

This can stop people in their tracks. They’ll dutifully do the day-to-day stuff, using ‘busyness’ as an excuse not to put themselves out there, on the creative front line. Really, they’re scared of being shot down.

I believe it’s partly aligned with the principal of ‘Social Proof’. People naturally gravitate towards the crowd. Safety in numbers. By not trying to be remarkable you don’t run the risk of failing in front of others.

Guess what, sometimes you will fail. Your ideas will be shot down. Sometimes you’re ideas won’t be perceived as great.

That feeling sucks.

But, if you look at it another way, with each bad idea you’re one step closer to a good idea. And when you’ve got that good idea, the buzz feeling is great. You reap the rewards and you’re inspired to tackle the next thing.

There’s no such thing as a bad idea

It’s all part of the process.

In one of my old jobs I was primarily the digital designer, but was also able to flex my creative muscles in concept packaging too. It’s good to mix creative disciplines. It increases the number of potential connections in your mind. More connections = more ideas.

One piece of packaging in particular stands out as a major success. More than a few people acclaimed it as the best piece to come out of the company. I was proud of it, still am. And I enjoyed the praise. Plus, the piece of work helped me to progress in the company.

But the process wasn’t clean. There were lots of supposedly ‘bad’ ideas. Hundreds of sketches which made it as far as the bin, which soon overflowed with screwed up paper. There were piles of hasty made prototypes consisting of taped together pieces of cardboard. All unfit for purpose.

One afternoon the studio was pulling together to meet an exhibition deadline.

We were talking about my piece of packaging. One person remarked about one of my early ideas, laughing. I believe to bring me down a peg or two in front of an audience.

After short consideration, my response: “well… we’re allowed bad ideas…”.

That hadn’t been said before, but everyone knew I was right. Especially as the bad idea in question was part of a process that lead to a great result.

Lets call bad ideas progress ideas because they help us move to the next level. Thats exactly what happened in this case.

Just to set the record straight; other than the story above, I have nothing but good memories of working at the company. I have huge respect for a lot of people that work there.

10,000 lightbulbs

700 or 1,000 or 10,000. The story changes with each recount. But the point is that Thomas Edison made lots of light bulbs that didn’t work before he hit upon one of the greatest inventions ever.

When asked about the multiple failures, Edison replied:

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

This is a brilliant metaphor for design. Come up with lots and lots of progress ideas, and you’ll get closer and closer to a great one.

10 ideas a day

James Altucher advocates coming up with 10 ideas every morning. As a ritual. On any subject, but may as well be one that you’re tackling that day.

10 is a great number. It’s not so many that it’s overwhelming, but enough to stretch your mind. It sets you mindset up for idea mode.

You may be working on a creative task that needs ‘a couple of good ideas’. Why not think of 10 ideas? That makes 2 seem easy.

OK, they’re not going to be 10 good ideas. But the progress ideas may well spark other connections in your mind. Which could lead to a good idea.

Scatter gun ideas

A scatter gun is more likely to hit the target than an individual bullet. Each scatter gun pellet is a progress idea. Some will miss wildly, some will come close. One or two will hit smack in the middle.

Some may find targets that you didn’t even know were there. Unexplored avenues that were only discovered because you’re not afraid to put your neck on the line. To step out from the crowd and share your creativity. Even the bad progress ideas.


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