Good ideas don’t spring to life fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. They slip into the world incognito, often disguised as bad ideas.
Being afraid of having a bad idea is the surest way to shut off the flow of ideas altogether. So I welcome them.
I learned this lesson very early in my career. The Berlin Wall had fallen, Eastern European countries were exploring democracy and capitalism, and my guy had to speak about it. Every day, it seemed, saw the birth of a new nation. Aha!
“Birth is messy and bloody,” I wrote. Then my fingers froze in midair. What are you thinking? (I thought.) This guy is a big, macho Wall Street exec. You’re going to give him a placenta metaphor?
Ixnay on the placenta metaphor. But then what?
I stared at my computer. I stared at the walls of my cubicle. I squeezed my eyes shut real hard and snapped them open again. Nothing. Every thought in my head—every thought I would ever think for the rest of my life, apparently—was just a variation on that one, highly inappropriate, placenta metaphor.
So I gave in. I wrote the thing. I embellished it, added some (you should pardon the expression) color. I made it the placenta-iest paragraph anyone could ever imagine. Even a midwife would have said, “Enough, already!”
I printed out what I wrote and hung in on the wall in front of me. Having captured it for posterity (and my own continuing amusement in the months ahead), I deleted it from my computer.
And, whaddaya know? Getting the bad idea out of my head made room for good ones. The speech turned out just fine.
So if you can’t get something out of your mind…get it out of your head. Post it or stash it in an “I Can’t Believe I Tried to Write That” file. Share it with your friends over drinks. Just don’t share it with your boss.
Speaking of bad ideas, here’s the first title I came up with for this post: