46 to 35: Saw or Scalpel

“Ok, I have one last idea for you.”

“Saw or scalpel?”

We both look at the clock. Our 2am hard stop had ticked by a while back, somewhere between the recent spike in crypto currencies and the impact of the rise of Charlemagne on European culture.

“Saw,” I granted, a nod to the day of work waiting us both on the other side of a dwindling rest. “But that’s a really interesting question, and we should talk about that more sometime.”

And here we are. Saw or Scalpel?

Ideas are conceived as clouds. At first, just a few wisps of thought, trailing together in a clear sky. A constant shifting flux of pressures push the trailing mists forward through our minds, gathering shape and substance, leaving us to only guess at the true nature of the white form painted against a clear, blue canvas.

The idea is born the first time we see that same shape outlined in the world around us. A lump of clay, a slab of marble, something is the same as that shape in the clouds, and we can see the common form trapped inside, struggling to get out.

But like the sculptor, the ideasmith knows that this step, the inspiration, the genius, only represents this idea’s first moments in this world. It’s an important one, a magical one, and deserves to be talked about, but I fear I don’t understand that one yet well enough to really name it.

But once you have that idea, raw, unrefined, eager to be released, well, we’ve all had that moment and we all have a lot of thoughts and opinions about what happens next.

But one hurdle we always face is describing the cloud. The stone is there, for all to see, but a thousand people have looked at this same stone before and discarded it. We inevitably find ourselves describing the stone, showing those around us, look, the head will be here, the arm here, here hangs the sling.

Without the cloud, the stone is just a stone. Your job is not to describe how you can bring the stone to the thing you glimpsed in the cloud. The fact is, the form in the stone will either emerge truer than anything you foresaw, or crumble under your touch, and that is in many ways entirely out of your control.

But you can describe the cloud, the thoughts that build to form its foundations, the way they are arranged. An idea is both easier and harder to carve in a mind as it is to carve into reality, but ultimately, you will require the ability to do both if you want to see your idea become real.

I really like this question, “Saw or Scalpel?” as a way of thinking about your conversations on ideas. Some conversations will carve out large chunks of an idea space, carving a shape that is both expansive and imprecise. Others will focus in on the finest detail, a precise hanging of tumblers ready to turn for the exact right key. Again, both conversations are incredibly important to have, are key tools in the toolbelt of the ideasmith.

However, it is incredibly important to remain aware of what we are trying to do with a conversation. Too often, we allow our conversation so simply wander the outline of our ideas in our own minds, describing an edge here, a detail there, instead of focusing on the real objective — the shape of the idea in the minds we are communicating with.

If you want to be compelling, you need to carve the shape that is in your audience’s minds, not the one that is in yours. One way we do this is by properly choosing our tools.

For an audience that already has their own cloud forming, that has already seen the outline, this will often involve a scalpel, carving out fine details, meticulously, inch by inch.

But this cannot be where you begin. You have to begin with a saw, carving out large, imprecise shapes in the sky. As a creator, we are endlessly fascinated by the detail of what we are creating, and we want to share that with the world. But that is the point of your work, and you don’t get to skip to that part, that only happens at the end, if you are lucky.

No, I think, generally you will be communicating with a saw, and if the only tool you can wield is a scalpel, it’s unlikely that your idea will grow fast enough in the minds of those around you to gather the support it will need to survive.