“The idea seems absurd, yet I can find no flaw in it.” – Johannes Kepler
The crucible built up beautifully. Friday lunchtime. A morning, with just myself for company after four days of workshops, in a private area at the back of our training rooms, freedom to do some quiet work. An afternoon of the same ahead. The phone rang.
“Paul, when do you want to catch up next week?”
“I’ve got free time now; what are you up to?”, I replied.
“It’s my day off, but… can I see you in ten minutes?”. It was on a whim, and if there were any thought-police on duty, they didn’t have long to find the barricades.
My collaborator came armed with an idea. I didn’t have one yet. She said she didn’t want to know what had been before, she wanted an empty slate to sketch upon. I respected that notion, and listened assiduously. Her idea appealed. It was gently launched off the back of a mutually shared experience last year. If we are to be as brutal as the corporate world is, her genesis was someone else’s original idea, enacted, that worked, then re-worked. So what? That previous idea was getting credo – respect – and enjoying an inspired metamorphosis.
Really, what a luxury, privilege, opportunity. To hear my collaborator share an idea previously captive within her mind only. It had escaped, milling around the room, and would only survive on the mutual re-arrangement we would undertake. Her idea was a process; a reflection of her cognitive style. I encircled it, adding flesh, then pushed it into a corner to examine it from afar. Then * pop *…. my idea was 1 second old, and it only existed because of an idea built on another idea.
“We’ve got the frame, we’ve got the guts of it too, now all we need is the kindling. What do you think?” I asked.
“I don’t know. What will the project team think? I love how it looks, but it’s pretty out there.”
“Don’t rough in the boundaries, that’s not for us. Let the project team shrink it if they need to”, I replied.
“OK, let’s do it.”
We drew and wrote on a whiteboard wall the length of the room. Staccato additions, a gattling gun belching fiery detail, lest it all get lost in the headless chicken desperation to visualise. Then we stopped, and looked at each other; it was done.
That moment was an acknowledgement of the demise of the two ideas, but we could see their souls, stretched like animal skins pinned to a drying rack. They would have form, function, perpetuation. They would have meaning beyond the brief span when they were vital, pure, unmolested. Our mutual belief would ensure that.
* * * * *
The best piece of advice I’ve heard in the last couple of years is to think without boundaries. This is principally suited to ideation. My collaborator confided how last year for a while the ideas were just not coming to her, and it was really personally upsetting at the time. I understand that, it has happened to me when I’ve been lost, had no momentum, no confidence. The ideas are there, barrelling around, but I’ve been scared to dream, to dare to actualise, eyes screwed shut. It’s inscrutable, but it really is something inner.
Nature there; nurture here: when I’m zoning out in a conversation, sometimes I have to claw back, apologise and explain how the counterparty has just inspired an idea. I still knew with my collaborator that the ideas would be there when needed. My advice is to be calm. Let it come to you. Distance and separation; the ache of the ripping up of what is known and creating space.
Oh, and then there is the notion of planned ideation, creating a notch in a seething, pumping operating rhythm. For mine it is overly manufactured, it is better to abandon rigmarole for flex, but it does pay homage to the value of ideas, which is simply nice. But is it folly to ascribe a value to an idea? Is every idea priceless? Or only of an indiscernible future value if, and once, morphed and shared?
Ideas are not good or bad, they just are. Don’t let them die in vain.
* * * * *
On Monday morning I asked my collaborator if the idea still made sense after the weekend. She said it did.