Even geniuses have terrible ideas. They’re just good at spotting them. They know what a good ideal feels like.
A good idea makes you go hell yeah.
A good idea won’t usually make you rich or famous. It might not meet with a ton of praise. But you don’t regret it, either. It’s hard to know when you’ve got a truly stupid idea, and when you’re just doubting yourself.
Hard, but not impossible.
Recently, I spent 7 hours on a stupid idea. Then I made a fresh pot of coffee and stared out the kitchen window for a while. When I came back to my idea, I found myself whispering, “Holy shit… this is terrible.” So I deleted the whole thing and wrote this instead.
I’m coming off fresh from a stupid idea, with firsthand knowledge of what it feels like from start to finish:
You feel like it’s utterly brilliant
The idea feels like a masterpiece waiting to happen. You haven’t even started working on it, and yet you just know somehow. Yeah, right. When you catch yourself marveling at the light bulb above your head, it’s time to take a break. You’re not thinking clearly.
You’re obsessed with its originality
Nobody has ever thought of this before, right? You’ll be the first. In truth, nobody’s ever the first to come up with an idea. Not anymore. Humans have lived too long. Every idea just adds a little something. The novelty of an idea doesn’t matter as much as the quality of execution.
You focus on the bells and whistles
The idea should be enough. It doesn’t need special features or gimmicks. If it does, you’ve got a stupid idea.
You can’t wait to show it to someone
That’s because you feel insecure about your brilliant idea, and you want external validation right away. You don’t just want someone else to nod and go “cool.” You want them to react like a cartoon.
It forms out of desperation
You’re probably deep in the swamp of failure. You’re not feeling great about yourself. You’re looking for any reason to feel better. This means you’re more likely to overestimate the quality of your ideas. When you’re not starving, you know how to toss back the little fish.
You feel an urge to get it done now
Part of you sees what’s going on, and it tries to get you to slow down and think. Your better self doesn’t want you throwing away ten hours on an idea with no merit. Ironically, this puts the rest of your brain into overdrive. It doubles down on your bad idea, and tries to get as much work in as possible before you wise up. We become strangely fixated on bringing our stupid ideas to their rotten fruition.
It’s completely unfeasible
That’s the part that tantalizes you. It looks really hard, perhaps even impossible, and right now you want the distraction of a challenge. You might lack the skill set to bring your idea into being, but that won’t stop you. You’ll find a shortcut somehow.
You care more about the idea than anything
The best ideas add value to other people’s lives. When you skip over this part, that’s a red hot sign that you should stop and relax. You’ve started caring more about the idea, and the attention it will bring you, than what you’re actually bringing to the table.
You start fearing that it will fail
What if nobody cares about your brilliant idea? You’ve invested all this time and energy. If it doesn’t vomit rainbows, you’ll be devastated. That means you probably know it’s going to fail. Not only that, you’re starting to see why — and just can’t admit it to yourself. A good idea will get better through criticism. A stupid idea completely falls apart.
It’s actually torturing you
A good idea should feel good. You shouldn’t be sweating too much over it. You should be approaching it with a calm, patient attitude. It’s hard, but the good kind of hard — not the kind that makes you agitated, swinging back and forth between euphoria and panic attacks.
Sometimes a good idea is just a cool little idea. It doesn’t take long to implement — and you don’t expect much. These ideas might excite people more than you expected, but not less.
You know you should be doing something else
Your utterly brilliant idea could just be a distraction from parts of your life that you’re neglecting. That little voice in your head keeps saying, “Are you sure this is worth your time?” The little voice doesn’t doubt you, just this idea. It feels like you could be doing something more worthwhile, like taking a shower. Have you smelled yourself?
Stop waiting for the next brilliant idea
We spend so much time trying not to give up. But sometimes you do yourself the biggest favor by stepping back from those brilliant ideas. They’re just stupid ideas wearing a cool suit. It’s okay, you can give up on a stupid idea without giving up on yourself.