Why All Ideas Are Great Ideas

Life lessons from 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy

“There are no bad ideas, Lemon — only great ideas that go horribly wrong.”
–Jack Donaghy
, 30 Rock

When Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) has something to say in NBC’s beloved sitcom 30 Rock, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) listens carefully. She either agrees with his mentoring advice or she shakes her head in disagreement and shares more about her disparaging life. Problem solving seems easy in the fictional world of Kabletown, but when it comes to real life, decisions can be the bane of our existence and great ideas can seem few and far between. We could all use a powerfully successful executive mentor like Jack Donaghy, but there’s a lot we can learn from the fictional version in the meantime — because even Mr. Donaghy seems to have some radical insight about living with inner purpose.

30 Rock has got creator Tina Fey’s signature humor all over it, and it’s one of my favorite go-to shows to watch on Netflix when I need to decompress and LOL. It always puts a smile on my face with its playful, over-the-top candor and usually self-deprecating comedy. It helps me take myself less seriously, and there’s always some hidden gems of insight to be gained.

If you’ve watched the show yourself, you know that John Francis “Jack” Donaghy is Liz Lemon’s boss, but he’s also her guru throughout the entire series. That in itself could give license to an entire article about the importance of mentors, but I digress. Their office conversations are often as heated as they are animated, and while Liz is busy complaining or gloating, Jack is always fishing for any “teachable moments” he can find. His words are always judgmental, always hilarious, and sometimes even true.

In Season 7 Episode 3: “Stride of Pride,” Liz openly criticizes Jack for his decision on something and calls it a “bad idea” — to which Jack responds, “There are no bad ideas, Lemon — only great ideas that go horribly wrong.”

As funny as that quote is, I think it alludes to the importance of how we qualify our ideas in the first place. Maybe we start out with a great idea — a remarkable idea! We feel excited about it and exhilarated about its promise. We begin to ruminate on all the possibilities and all that is required to bring our stroke of brilliance to fruition. The more we think about it, the more we see potential obstacles, and the idea begins to lose its luster. We begin comparing it to other similar ideas until our own idea starts to feel heavy, daunting, and perhaps like not such a good idea at all anymore (blerg!). Why is that?

Because we pre-qualify our potential to fail, so we don’t even begin.

How are we to get anything done when every great idea goes from great to not-so-great before we even begin? Here’s how:

Consider the first part of Jack’s advice — that there are no bad ideas, only great ideas. What if you decided that every idea you have that starts as a great idea, must truly be a great idea? Then, what if you were to experiment with developing things further — with measurable action — until you reach a point where it is decidedly an idea worth pursuing or not? You’re not going to find the motivation to begin unless you believe the idea is great enough in the first place.

This is why all ideas are great ideas, and should be treated as such until proven otherwise — because they are just ideas until they are put into action.

All your ideas are great ideas — period. Start telling yourself that enough to actually start believing it. Anything less is not a very inspiring way to begin, even if your idea started out so alluring that Liz Lemon would have said, “I want to go to there.”

I recorded a song called “Hang Around” for my 2006 studio album Up & Away, but it was on the chopping block just before it was released. The song seemed like a great idea when I wrote it. I loved it so much because it was an exciting leap forward into a “poppier” direction for me. The only problem was that it felt out of place on the album I was about to release because the album had more of a “torch song” vibe overall. Even my producer agreed that “Hang Around” might have to not hang around for this particular album. I was almost ready to let go of it after considering multiple factors, but my intuition held on tight because it just felt like a great song that needed to be heard — even if it did stick out from all the rest.

To this day, “Hang Around” is the most requested song I’ve ever released. It started out as a great song idea, so I put it to work. Then it became a great song — and in spite of the obstacles and naysayers, I allowed it to remain a great song by putting it on the album.

Put your great idea to work — big or small. Do yourself a favor and let your great idea speak for itself through tangible action. Don’t just let it ruminate in your head and allow your ego’s insecurities diminish it altogether. If you take action and your great idea goes horribly wrong, then you will have learned from it far more than you will trying to think your way through it. And dare I say — if you take action and your great idea leads you to the best decision you’ve ever made in life, then you might even make Jack Donaghy proud.

I’ve had many great ideas over the years that have either become great songs or have translated differently than I originally heard them in my head once I heard them out loud. The very act of developing these ideas has been the deciding factor in what ideas become songs and what ideas remain in the vault. Even the dormant ideas might have life still in them down the road if I revisit them with a fresh perspective. That’s why I always record every creative idea I have — song ideas in my iTalk app and lyric or article ideas in Evernote app — because you never know what great things might emerge from great ideas.

Embrace the wonders of “failing forward.” Authors, gurus and business coaches have often promoted the concept of “failing forward” as being an important factor in succeeding. The idea is that there is no failing — only forward movement. We have to learn from our mistakes in order to truly succeed and sustain momentum. Nothing is accomplished with a golden track record of perfection. Even the most successful people have confessions of “failing forward” time and time again while becoming who they are today. Every failed attempt can be a lesson in what not to do again as much as it can be a lesson in how to go about things differently moving forward. Let your failures be glorious life lessons because they are also a part of your journey towards radical inner purpose.

And speaking of radical inner purpose (RIP) — life is short, so what are you dying to live for?

Personally, I’ve been living my dreams as a full-time independent singer/songwriter since 1999, and it’s brought so much radical inner purpose to my life. It’s important to note that I graduated high school in 1999 from a private college-prep school. I was the only kid who decided not to go to college, and instead I pursued an independent career in music, touring the country Ani DiFranco-style. I thought it was a great idea at the time, but it could have been a disaster. In fact, there have been many mini-disasters along the way, and I’ve learned so much from them. I think I’ve learned more from my mistakes than my successes, and I’m certain they would have been a lot less painful if I had understood this concept of “failing forward” 15+ years ago.

As much as Jack Donaghy hates to fail, I’m sure he understands this concept better than Liz Lemon even realizes. For more insight from the Kabletown boss himself, here are 20 Life Lessons From Jack Donaghy that will make you LOL, TBT and YOLO 😃

Lemon out!

Here’s my mission

I want to change the dialogue on inner purpose. We all want a “life worth living for” before we die, so I think we need to start “living a life worth dying for” while we’re still alive. Too many people look back on their lives with heavy hearts full of regret when they could be living with radical inner purpose. So what are you dying to live for? Go ahead, get creative… Or click here for a little help from this handy creative action plan.

RIP (Radical Inner Purpose),

-Gregory Douglass

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