Do Great Ideas Require Loose Cannons?

About twenty years or so ago I had a disagreement with a co-worker about a project we were working on.

We were on deadline and I had three ideas I wanted to submit but he kept trying to stall because he said the three ideas I had come up with weren’t thought out and vetted the way he wanted them to be.

I suggested that he was skirting around the real issue and asked him if he didn’t like them because he couldn’t present them as his ideas.

He insisted I was wrong and suggested that it was better to miss our deadline so we could offer something spectacular instead of just average

I just shook my head and smiled at him.

“Why are you smiling?”

“Because I’m not left handed.”

I remember his looking confused and telling him I was paraphrasing The Princess Bride and how he told me he hated the movie.

“It is just dumb.”

I shook my head again and muttered something about having spent years developing an immunity to Iocane powder.

If you are not familiar with the movie it probably sounds like gibberish and even if you are it might sound like an obscure reference but it was an important moment.

The Conception Of An Idea

If you don’t speak Wilner you won’t recognize that moment was the beginning of a conception of an idea.

During our debate about what to turn in and when I had continued to try to come up with better ideas to present but it had taken the push back between us for me to recognize I had stumbled upon a fragment of an idea that I thought was better than everything we had come up with.

And it happened because when I got irritated with his attitude I went for broke inside my head and stopped playing it safe.

Because until we started our debate that was what I had done. I had stuck to very conservative themes that I was sure would make people happy and would be unlikely to get us yelled at for being ridiculous.

What Came Next

If you were watching this tale on screen this would be the time where you’d see the protagonist pitch the revised idea and you’d find out if he was the hero or the goat but that won’t happen here.

And it is not because it is not a movie.

It is because I don’t remember enough of the details to you tell you how it all played out.

What I do remember is how my colleague protested again and how I refused to miss a deadline because he thought everything had to be perfect.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in trying to turn in perfection but that I understand sometimes you compromise and provide very good because perfection is useless if your idea gets killed because you missed your deadline.

Did I mention that my former colleague was known for fighting with anyone and everyone who didn’t want to present one of his ideas.

He was a man who believed that if you shouted loudly and held your ground you would always get your way. It didn’t always work out as well as he wanted because we learned how to manage him but I digress.

How Parenting Influenced The Idea Factory

One of the many things my children taught/reminded me was the beauty of taking the shackles off of our minds and imaginations.

Kids don’t set limitations on their imaginations. They don’t worry about what is possible or whether people will think they are stupid because of what they say.

They just say and do it.

So I went back to saying and doing it too.

I stopped worrying about whether an idea might be embarrassing and used brainstorming sessions to their full potential.

Anything and everything could be thrown on the table and examined.

That is what brainstorming is for.

If you went back in time and were a fly on the wall during that debate with my old colleague you would have heard him tell me I was being a loose cannon.

You would have also heard me ask him to prove to me that great ideas couldn’t come from loose cannons and heard him acknowledge he couldn’t.

If he and I were to have that discussion I would take a different approach then I did back then.

But not because I was wrong, but because age has made me more skilled at finding solutions to challenging situations, or at least I think it has.

If you go back to The Princess Bride and think about the interplay between The Man In Black and Vizzini you’ll recall how Vizzini’s ego was his downfall.

His belief that he knew more and was smarter than everyone else blinded him to the possibility that someone might best him and then it happened.

Parts And Pieces

What I like about that Stephen King quote above is the push to look at the parts and pieces as well as the whole.

Sometimes the way to make something special is by taking parts and pieces from elsewhere and melding them together.

That doesn’t mean that turning the box inside out and upside down will always lead to turning the ordinary into the extraordinary but it might mean that you get a fragment of an idea that you store in the back of your mind for use later on.

What do you think?

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  1. Tim Bonner April 27, 2015 at 8:24 am

    I’ve been using OneNote a lot recently to store my ideas. It feels more natural to me than Evernote and is somewhere I can just park an idea and mull on it.

    What I find is that I end up combining some of those ideas to form a blog post. So, you’re spot on when it comes to fragments of ideas!

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