What I’ve Learned From Having Thousands of (mostly terrible) Ideas

Everything in life starts with an idea. They are the seeds of creation, innovation, and progress.

I love ideas. Coming up with something new that solves a problem, is a process I enjoy more than anything. Ideas can change the world, as much as they can destroy them. It’s easy to see why it’s important we better understand them.

For me personally, I collect ideas in small Moleskine notebooks (or commonplace book) that are always in my back pocket. Every few weeks, I go through some of my older ones and can’t help but chuckle at some of the ridiculous things I’ve jotted down.

Despite the audacity of some of my notes, I’ve learned a lot from this practice and from understanding how ideas work in general. These are few of those insights that will hopefully be useful to you as you navigate your own wonderfully unique imagination.

1. Ideas Arise From Intersections

Coming up with new ideas can be difficult at times, but one simple approach can unlock a treasure trove of unique thinking. That approach is intersection or the combination of two existing ideas to create something new.

In reality, nearly all ideas are based on such an intersection; a remix of what already is, into something novel. Combining ideas across fields and domains leads to unique perspectives and possibly even innovative solutions.

Whenever you’re trying to brainstorm new ideas, a great place to start is intersection.

2. Ideas Are Meant To Be Shared

As I’ve collected ideas in my notebook for years, I realized I haven’t shared a majority of them. I think this is fairly common. For some reason, whenever we have an interesting new idea, we tend to keep it to ourselves. It seems to me that we’re afraid of other stealing them from us.

The funny thing is you probably wouldn’t be able to get your idea stolen if you tried. Instead, you should share your ideas. People can give you unique insights and feedback into what you’re trying to accomplish. They can help you develop ideas and you’ll find others that share your passion.

None of that is possible if you keep them to yourself. Share your ideas, but try to do so with the right people.

3. Ideas Have an Expiration Date

In the book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert explains that ideas are everywhere in the world. They come and go, as moments of inspiration to any individual. If that person accepts them, nourishes them, and acts on them, they stick around. If they are ignored and forgotten, that idea, that inspiration, will disappear as well.

When an idea thinks it has found somebody — say, you — who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention.

- Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s a romantic idea and also one I’m sure we’ve all felt at some point in our lives, as inspiration comes and goes. I come across such ideas all the time, as I review an idea I loved not that long ago, but am no longer excited by.

The point is, when you have these moments of inspiration, take them seriously because they could just as well move on if you don’t.

4. Ideas Are Mostly Terrible

Most ideas are terrible. That’s just the truth. Or at least it is for me.

Maybe they’re before their time. Maybe they’re not solving a real problem. Maybe they’re not fully developed yet. Whatever the reason, we all have to accept that just because we love an idea, that doesn’t make it a good one.

This is another reason why sharing ideas is important. We need to take the time to properly evaluate and manage our ideas, as to ensure we don’t waste our time on the terrible ones.

The lesson here is that ideas are never a bad thing, but that they are all about volume. The more you have, the better odds you have to stumble across a brilliant one.

5. Ideas Need To Be Refined

When we have an idea, it’s a messy, half-formed thought that often lacks any real world value. At this point there are two paths, either you take this hollowed out idea and run with it or you put in the effort to improve it.

Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.

- C.D. Jackson

Terrible ideas can evolve into great ones if they are given the opportunity. Through meditation and discussion, an idea can transform from a feeble thought into a fully formed belief.

Most ideas aren’t complete at their inception, but with some hard work and elbow grease, they can become great.

As much as I love ideas, they are only part of the process. The more important and difficult part comes in the execution of ideas.

Ideas are worthless until you get them out of your head to see what they can do.

Having ideas is great, but if it doesn’t turn into something real, it has no true value. I’ll be the first to admit that having ideas is far more fun than executing them, but if we want to truly discover what makes an idea so great, we have to find a way to make it reality.

Don’t get too caught up in the ideation phase because that will only take you so far. Work on using your ideas as much as you do on having them. Finding that balance is key.

Writer that designs — or is it the other way around? VP of eCommerce at function of beauty, creator of t-shirts, and lover of books.