Ideas Are Meaningless

A good idea can come from anywhere. People say it all the time because it is true. But, an idea by itself is utterly worthless without someone who knows how to take that idea from dream to reality.

Ever watch the television show House? Each week, Dr. House solves the latest medical mystery though an obscure idea that seems to approach him from anywhere or anyone. The “a-ha” moment that reveals itself does nothing more than point the way. It takes the doctor’s creative genius to recognize the idea when he sees it. And it takes his experience to make the idea a reality and actually solve the problem. Understanding the value of an idea is the first part of good creative direction. The second part is having the know-how to make it a reality. We are surrounded by ideas all the time. Recognizing value in a single thought floating in a sea of ideas takes not only creative intelligence, but experience.

Benjamin Franklin said, “At twenty years of age, the will reigns; at thirty, the wit; and at forty, the judgment.” As a young designer, I came about good ideas by spawning hundreds of bad ideas. I would push myself like I was at the gym. Just 4 more ideas, just 3 more ideas, 2 more, okay last ooonnne. Done.  Now in my thirties, I feel like good ideas happen more quickly. By comparison, they are certainly more clever. The difference is, I now see ideas through the scope of my experiences.

We see a lot of good ideas with poor execution on the internet. Actually, some studies have shown that people watching YouTube are turned off by high production value. I don’t know. Maybe free content needs to look like it’s free. I always ask, “could it be better?” How would you improve it? How could you make it more meaningful? In looking back at my blog, it’s no big surprise to me why some entries do better than others. It’s not only the quality of the idea, but the quality of the execution that counts.

Crowd sourcing uses submissions from an online community to solve a particular problem. This is probably the most literal interpretation of how a good idea comes from anywhere. The Pepsi Refresh project is one of the most popular expressions of crowd sourcing. This project not only outsources the generation of the idea, but the judgment of the idea too, through online voting. I feel like crowd sourcing is an interesting way to generate ideas. I am always willing to listen to anyone, but it’s the judgment aspect that I have trouble with. In the end, I feel like average judgment equals average success.

A lot of CEOs make unpopular decisions, only to become wildly successful. Sure, they could have done what everyone expected them to do. And that would have sufficed. But recognizing the value of a good idea, even when everyone else doesn’t, is a hard road to follow. You’re stamped with a lot of nasty labels until you prove your detractors wrong. The flip side is that, sometimes, unpopular decisions are just bad decisions. But that’s what makes it interesting.

Everyone has the right to their own opinions and ideas. In a professional setting, they have the right to express those ideas, or at least should be able to express them without fear of reprisal. But who makes the final call? There always seems to be some confusion surrounding opinions.

In the mind of a creative professional, there is a real separation between professional creative evaluation and personal opinion. Having an opinion does not qualify your average person for anything more than having an opinion. A creative director’s opinion reflects years of training. Sometimes it’s based on intuition, other times it’s easier to explain. They push to understand both failures and successes. This becomes the basis of a trained professional’s decision. A personal opinion is about what you like; a professional opinion is about what an audience will like. Sometimes it’s the same, other times it isn’t.

Creative evaluation does not come from having an idea or two. It’s about having thousands of ideas, and executing hundreds of them over years. A creative professional at an advanced level knows how to prioritize, evaluate and judge what is better. The process of raising an idea can sometimes be anything but lucid. It’s tricky to know when you’ve arrived at the right solution, but experience teaches you judgment. And that judgment is what gives meaning to an idea.

Google is useless. It only gives answers.

I think Google is useless. It only gives answers. If you know your Picasso, I am steeling his “Computers are useless. They can only give answers” statement. Now, I don’t think Google is completely useless, but it depends on what you are looking for. If you’re looking for a creative solution, a search engine is not going to help you. Your results are only as good as the questions you ask. Ask a dumb question, get a dumb answer. Garbage in garbage out, as the old programmers say.

Computers aren’t creative or intelligent. They are just another tool. Like any instrument, in the hands of the experienced they can make beautiful things happen. But, many times when you read any article about being creative they will tell you to first get off the computer. And I mostly agree with that. You need to query your own brain to get a good question. And those result depends on your creative intelligence and experience.

Answers are less interesting than the questions anyway. Once you ask the right question, the answer is just a matter of research and time. A truly creative solution comes from a truly creative question. There’s no chicken and egg puzzle here. A great answer comes from a great question.

I was mainly thinking about this after a previous blog I had written about how some people positions themselves as experts after obviously spending just a few minutes online. It’s true; the availability of information is great. Anyone can just look a few things up and have an opinion. But, is it a good opinion? Is it a creatively inspired opinion that was derived from asking interesting questions?

I love how Google can help me research, but it’s one of many tools I use. However, I will never use an answer tool when what I need is a good question.