Stop chasing the perfect idea

This is a short manifesto for makers and creators, whether it’s events, programmes, startups, books, poems, art, etc.

We all get stuck in a rut. Maybe you have writers’ block, or can’t seem to crack the idea that’s been hounding you for a while. Whatever the case is, knowing how to stop chasing the perfect idea is critical to kick-starting and sustaining your own transformative creativity, and it’s as relevant in business and life as the arts. Here are three ways to stop getting in your own way.

Build a circle of perspectives you trust.

When you’re turning an idea over and over in your head, it can be easy to lose perspective, so make sure you get fresh ones. Have a small circle of friends, colleagues or mentors whose opinions you trust and be sure to get their thoughts on whatever you’re working on.

If you’re a writer, run your concepts past a scientist. If you’re a software engineer, find a poet to bounce ideas off of. If you’re an entrepreneur, see what your artistic friend makes of it.

Exposing your idea to the light and to diverse perspectives is all about shortening the feedback loop. This is especially important with early-stage ideas. At this point, your idea is never going to be 100% watertight, and that’s okay. It can feel uncomfortable sharing it before it’s ready, but becoming used to getting feedback from a multitude of people will help you grow a thicker skin and eventually strengthen your idea. (Even better if those perspectives aren’t in the same field or industry as you.)

When I had an idea about a new poetry event I wanted to start, I floated it past writers as well as designers, leadership coaches, business consultants, psychology students, booksellers and community organizers. They all brought completely different experience and points of view to spot potential pitfalls and opportunities that would never have crossed my mind otherwise. Not only did those conversations spark new avenues to explore, it piqued their interest enough to put me in touch with other creatives that could help me along the way.

Tech companies have this agile philosophy baked into their process: test early and often, get feedback quickly, learn, change and send it out again. Rinse and repeat.

2. Cultivate whimsy always.

Beginnings are the most exciting time for any new idea. There’s an electric momentum, a sense of relentless possibility is the fertile ground for innovation. But how do you make sure you’re limiting your ideas before you’ve really started?

A few weeks ago, I was chatting offhandedly to a friend about a new poetry event I was mulling over. Although he’s interested in poetry and the arts, it’s not really his bag — so imagine my surprise when he started throwing out loads of ideas that pushed my original one forward by leaps and bounds: what if the poetry event was like the kids zone at a science museum? What if it was a political protest? What if it was an cypher rap battle? Could there be a digital element to it? How can we turn it on its head?

I asked him where all these strange and wonderful ideas came from, and he said he was just “whimsical”.

Corporate life usually strips us of our ability to be playful; instead, we’ve come to view ideas with fear and suspicion instead of with child-like openness. It’s not often that we let our imaginations run riot and embrace creative chaos. Like anything though, this is just a matter of forcing ourselves to think differently and becoming comfortable with dipping a toe (or flinging yourself) outside of your comfort zone. So train yourself to ask the silly questions. Push back against this-is-how-it’s-done mentality. Shut the conscious mind up before it starts railroading your ideas — you never know where chasing a whimsical idea could lead you.

3. Quality trumps quantity

In our results and outcome-obsessed culture, we’re driven to find the perfect idea. You might be caught in a loop of theorizing and over-thinking and getting sucked into the detail and by the time it comes to making your idea a reality, you’ve scared yourself off from seeing it through. You’re so caught up in all the risks and reasons why you shouldn’t do it, you’ve lost sight of the reason why the idea demanded your attention in the first place. Don’t let it.

Instead of spending our time fine-tuning an idea, research proves that it’s the quantity of ideas, not the quality, that really drives innovation. Once we let go of the fear of nailing that one concept, our brains are free to find radical, unexpected solutions.

So, accept that the perfect idea doesn’t exist. Instead, to find truly creative solutions, whether they’re ground-breaking initiatives to change the world or slightly different approach to a business challenge that will nudge the company forward even 1%, you need to generate lots of ideas.

There’s an exercise I like to run with clients in my corporate strategy workshops: how many ideas can we come up with in a minute? Can we brainstorm 100 different solutions in 10 minutes, no matter how far-fetched or impractical? Sometimes the human brain needs constraints in order to be creative. Turn it into a challenge and you’ll find people will rise to it.

Whatever your creative pursuit is, stop agonizing and go build the thing. The world needs it.

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