March 29, 2017
“If they don’t know your dreams, then they can’t shoot ‘em down” - J.Cole
Most kids learn to share at an early age. It’s a lesson that seems to get pushed toward the back as we grow older and our environment becomes more competitive, however, when it comes to ideas at least, it’s probably worth revisiting. Sharing ideas, not just the concept, but also the ownership can lower the burden to be right and therefore help get them out in front of people more quickly. The more eyes on and idea, the more feedback they can generate, which in turn can generate an even better idea. Conversely, the number one reason why I neglect to share my ideas with others is fear; fear that I will be judged, not just the idea, but me personally, for some flaw in the idea. This intertwining of ego with ideas is particularly pernicious because it’s so hard to see and yet is quite effective and holding us back from advancing. Learning how to separate the two and get back to sharing, which we did so well as kids, is worth the effort.
Separating the solutions to the fear induced by sharing into buckets, there is:
Sadly, knowing something to be true and doing it are two very different things. Armed with the belief that personal growth comes from sharing, however, I’ve been learning about and testing strategies to feel more comfortable with the process. A great place to start is “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. Not only is it incredibly comforting to know that others feel the same way, but Pressfield also provides a litany of strategies to employ. He has also helped explain the many projects I’ve killed before they saw the light of day because I worried that they might not be met with trumpets and fanfare.
One of the most ingenious solutions I’ve come across for separating the self from the idea was employed by Walt Disney in his studios. A dreamer himself, Disney could also be a realist and a harsh critic of ideas. He ended up creating a physical environment to mirror his personalities in what became known as the three rooms. Each room had a dedicated purpose related to the creative process, and while you were in there, that was the only task you focused on. The rooms were dedicated to brainstorming, storyboarding, and refining. So, by the time ideas reached room two, the team no longer looked at generating new ideas but trying to figure out how the ideas generated in room 1 (brainstorming) could work.
I don’t have three rooms to dedicate to the different parts of the process, however, I do use different parts of my apartment to change my surroundings and mindset. Having areas dedicated to the different parts and visual indicators of what I should be doing have proven incredibly helpful in keeping me focused on the task at hand and not allowing distraction to creep in.
Beyond moving around and changing what’s in front of me, the tools I use and how I use them also make a big difference in how attached I get to an idea. Instead of typing a first draft, I’ll get out a large sheet of blank paper, turn it sideways, and begin to put ideas down with a thick felt-tipped marker. Each of those components (blank page, landscape orientation, and a thick marker) free my mind to think differently. They’re all indicators that it’s okay to experiment and try new ideas.
One of the surprising benefits of sketching out ideas like this on paper has been the quality and quantity of feedback. Unlike sharing a Powerpoint presentation where the words “draft” do little to convince your audience to actually engage, I’ve found people to be much more willing to provide pointed feedback when what you present looks like it was drawn on a napkin.
I’ve begun reminding myself that I have no sacred cows to keep myself open to new ideas - even in areas where I might be naturally disinclined to try something new. That’s the precarious balance that comes with experience. The more experienced we become, the more confident we are with our own ideas. Confidence, however, doesn’t make right and I’m constantly on alert of getting stuck in a rut with my thinking and try to make a habit of bringing a “beginner’s mind” to a problem for a fresh perspective. Not only do I see new things, but it to helps to distance myself from an idea. The more distance I’ve been able to create between myself and my ideas, the more comfortable I’ve felt sharing ideas freely, receiving feedback openly, and generating ideas quickly. While it feels really good to be right, I’m beginning to appreciate that sometimes what’s really needed is just to alleviate the pressure to be right.
Written by Stephen Weiss who lives in Chicago with his wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Follow him on Twitter!