When we’re faced with a challenge that involves creative thinking, we generally have an idea that springs quickly to mind. We often take this idea and run with it because we feel confident about it.
This approach is fine for most of our day-to-day decisions, but if the decision or idea is important and valuable, then it is worth being sure that we’re going with the BEST idea.
Our first idea comes easily because it connects strongly with existing concepts and experiences in our mind. Unfortunately, these strong connections are often cliche, routine, frequent – so not creative, fresh and useful for our project.
We don’t like using unnecessary energy so our brain rewards this ease with a feeling of confidence. The more experienced you are with your subject, the more confidence you feel.
It is not just the first idea, it is the only idea which means it appears to be the best as there is no comparison
When I was studying Visual Communication Design, we were given an assignment to create something that represented the concept: “The mind is like a parachute, it works best when open.” I had recently seen an artwork where the artist had created a visual acrostic poem using images of vehicles to spell the word TRAVEL (eg, T = train). Because of this recent and strong connection, I decided to do a similar idea using ‘open things’ to spell the word MIND (eg, an open Magazine = M). I was very confident with this first idea.
As you can imagine, this didn’t translate well and the concept was too complicated – it was completely lost. On top of that, it was execute poorly because I felt that my idea should speak for itself.
A few weeks later, we had to showcase our idea. In the room 20 different responses to this prompt were on display. Suddenly, I had basis for comparison, I could see many of these had been more thoughtfully and creatively put together.
Presenting my solution was embarrassing. I received very ‘constructive’ criticism and learned a valuable lesson about the creative process.
So how do we make sure we’re working with the best idea?
If we want the BEST idea, we must push past this illusion of confidence.
If we put our first idea aside and force ourselves to really think, we draw up more than easy associations in our memory. These responses are generally more creative, more aligned to the task and offer better results. They also save us the embarrassment of sharing the predictable idea.
This concept can be applied in a few ways:
- Inventing New Ideas: Brainstorming.
Challenge the brainstorming beyond the easy to come by, associated ideas and dig deeply. A good way to do this is make a list of 20 ideas or 100 ideas – definitely more than 10. The first 5-10 will come easily, the rest will be much more difficult but will generally be more inspired by original and novel connections in the brain.
Don’t expect all of your ideas to be winners. Allow yourself to go through the process of knocking the easy ones off.
- Perfecting an existing idea: Iteration and Editing.
If you have challenged your first idea using the list method and still believe your first idea is the best, then allow it to incubate and iterate to create a better version of this idea.
Take off the creator hat and put on the editing hat. Sometimes, you will need some time to edit effectively. When Austin Kleon, author of “Steal Like an Artist” and “Show Your Work” writes something, he likes to put it away in a draw for at least a week until it becomes ‘strange’. Then he is able to edit it as a stranger, detached from the initial confidence and emotion of the draft.
This process almost always results in better, more robust results.
For many things in life, we can rely on our instincts to guide us and rest in that confident ease. This idea will generally be ‘good enough’. However, If we want the BEST idea, if our idea or decision is important and valuable, we must accept that it is worth the effort to push past our first thought and explore alternative options. This investment of effort will pay off.
Be Brave and Curious,