Ideas are Fragile

This morning, a designer and I had an idea. It wasn’t a big idea. In fact it was fairly unimportant and related to graphic design. However, the size of the idea has nothing to do with the feeling you have for it. People love their ideas regardless of whether they have merit or are complete thoughts.

Another designer entered the room and immediately was negative about the idea. Idea was destroyed on the spot.

Now, there is an obvious question of whether the idea was good or bad. Most people defend the practice of squelching ideas by saying that the idea has no merit.

The problem is that ideas that eventually turn awesome always start off as something wrong.

Ideas are like babies. Abraham Lincoln was not much of a public speaker when he was just an infant. It took time and energy to craft him into the man he became. Ideas are the same way.

They are fragile and need nurturing. Being negative towards them will blow them out like a birthday candle. Poof! However, the idea is clearly not in final (good) form either. The question is: How can you move an idea from this early stage to maturity?

One key technique is to use improv techniques. You go along with the idea and assume its a good start and ask probing questions and iterating on possibilities. You use the energy of the original idea and put some more kindling on it. You add your energy to the idea, but not in blind support, but rather in iterative exploration.

Another technique is to put things side-by-side and talk about the pros and cons. Specifically, you have to find ways to eliminate cons through problem solving. Again, it is assuming the idea has merit and you are trying to see if will pan out.

Sometimes you need to mildly encourage the person to flesh out the idea more, show it in more contexts.

The key is to not puff the flame out before it even has a chance.

It feels bad for the idea maker. It makes them want to squelch their own ideas before they even say them. It makes for poor communication and hurt feelings. We humans are fragile, just like our ideas.  How we nurture ideas and how we nurture people will make the difference in your group or society at large.


1 thought on “Ideas are Fragile”

  1. I like this article a lot Glen. Being a veteran designer I have been through the ringer on many occasions and have also had to be the bad guy (Maybe this isn’t working). Good take on how to work together in a positive and solution-based atmosphere!

    One thing I would have liked to have read here is about how office politics can affect a situation. Most of us have worked with a negative coworker (or worse: boss) before and it’s pretty horrible knowing that this person will strike anytime you or your coworkers present. You have to be determined and parry back with as much of a bullet proof concept as possible. This has made me a stronger designer and a better researcher. Also, as a mentor, when I see this type of negative interaction I will pull the offender aside later and suggest alternate methods.

    Maybe that’s another article 🙂

Leave a Reply