Revisit Your Good Ideas to Uncover Better Ones

Broken Light Bulb designed by Gregory Sujkowski from the Noun Project

Broken Light Bulb designed by Gregory Sujkowski from the Noun Project

Despite what we are often led to believe in popular media, even geniuses make mistakes and have bad ideas. Some of the most brilliant minds in history have often pursued bad ideas to the fullest. A classic example being Thomas Edison, who famously quipped: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Over on his blog, investor and writer Paul Graham explains the reason even smart people have bad ideas:

The biggest cause of bad ideas is the still life effect: you come up with a random idea, plunge into it, and then at each point (a day, a week, a month) feel you’ve put so much time into it that this must be the idea.

How do we fix that? I don’t think we should discard plunging. Plunging into an idea is a good thing. The solution is at the other end: to realize that having invested time in something doesn’t make it good.

…Plunge in, by all means, but remember later to look at your idea in the harsh light of morning

We can learn from both Graham’s personal example and Edison’s famous quip: it’s easy to get stuck on one idea, feeling as though it’s “the” idea we have to run with. Unfortunately when that happens we limit our ability to see just how flawed that one idea may be, ensuring we don’t uncover even better ideas.

Fortunately Edison and Graham both give us an excellent example of what we should instead be doing when we feel like an idea might not be working out: keep moving, even if that means running over 9,999 more ideas. You don’t have to stick with just one idea, in-fact you’re better off doing exactly the opposite.

Be sure to read Graham’s full write-up and learn from his experience as an artist and investor right here.

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Follow Your “Why,” Not Your “What”

person-question

Question designed by Jessica Lock from the Noun Project

Finding purpose in your work not only benefits your life, but helps differentiate you from others in your industry. Sunny Bonnell, co-founder and creative director of Motto, explains: 

Figure out what you stand for and what you believe in, and use that as your point of difference. In a crowd of designers, how will you stand apart? If you’re guilty of leading with what you do, start with why you do it and articulate that on your materials, website and social channels. Find out where your talents and values meet, and use that to leverage the power of your purpose.

Your “why” is a powerful driving force for your life and career. It provides a common goal that directs your actions and provides the dedication to get there. In addition, passion is contagious. Your excitement will excite others who will want to get involved in what you do. As leadership expert Simon Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

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Share Your Ideas While You Build Them, Not After

talking

Talking designed by Klara Zalokar from the Noun Project

 The sooner you share your ideas, the sooner you will find a solution that works for everyone. Try to collaborate with your clients during the design process instead of simply presenting to them at the end. That’s what digital strategist Michelle Campbell learned during the SXSW Interactive Festival:

At agencies, we’ve grown used to spending weeks on one idea only to have it thrown away at the last minute. If we opened up this process to more sharing — among ourselves and our clients — we’d have more time to build and evolve better ideas.

Your clients may not know much about design, but they are experts in their industries. Getting their feedback early on will prevent you from getting attached to an idea that isn’t going to work. Campbell reminds us:

… we often rely on people with the word “creative” in their title for ideas, but we forget that inspiration isn’t taught. It comes from real life, and anyone can bring that to the table.

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Purge Paperwork with the One Touch Rule

Paperwork by Matthew Hall from The Noun Project

Paperwork by Matthew Hall from The Noun Project

A recent study found that the average worker loses approximately 80 hours per years as a result of disorganization. That’s nearly two weeks of vacation! When invoices, receipts, contracts. and drafts are piled up everywhere, you’re likely to waste hours shuffling papers from one pile to another.

Ann Gomez of Clear Concept Inc. emphasizes the touch it once principle:

Process each task the first time you touch it.

Triage effectively with Gomez’s one touch rule – as soon as you get it, act on it, delegate it, file it or throw it away. And don’t just stop at paper – this principle easily applies to phone calls, emails and social media notifications.

It’s a simple trick to help you batch your work into scheduled, focus blocks: you won’t open an email until you’re ready to give it your full attention, or you’ll decline to accept your coworker’s rough draft until later when you know you’ll have the time to sit down and do it. 

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In Most Meetings, 3 People Are Doing 70% of the Talking

Brainstorm by Garrett Knoll from The Noun Project

Brainstorm by Garrett Knoll from The Noun Project

There are two leading problems with the average brainstorming session, as researchers at the Kellogg School of Management explain :

  1. In a typical six- or eight-person group, three people do 70 percent of the talking.
  2. Early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation. 

One of the researchers (as well as author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration), Professor Leigh Thompson, remarks that the dominant people don’t realize that they’re doing most of the talking. “In fact,” she says, “they vehemently argue that meetings are egalitarian.” 

The solution to these lop-sided meetings is brainwriting, instead of brainstorming. Thompson describes brainwriting as “the simultaneous written generation of ideas.” She breaks it down the process as such:

Step 1: Write just one sentence each. For the first five or 10 minutes of your next idea-generation meeting, every team member writes down one good idea or one proposed solution on, say, each of a small stack of index cards.

Step 2: Consider the idea, not the source. When the timer goes off, all cards are submitted anonymously and taped or thumbtacked to a wall for the whole team’s consideration.

Step 3: Put it to a blind vote. Team members signal their interest in an idea by marking it with a sticker or a Post-it note. Everyone gets a limited number of stickers and, if done right, the best ideas emerge quickly.

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Tom Dixon: Counterculture Is Dead

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In an interview with The Guardian, designer Tom Dixon comments on how counterculture has become mainstream, leaving no room for rebellion in design:

I’ve got a theory that it’s almost impossible now to be countercultural because everything is endorsed. Look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s show on punk. There’s nothing that isn’t authorised. Everything in fashion and in furniture has become super-legitimised. By the time it’s out there and blogged, it’s over.

Instead designing for or against trends, Dixon strives for his work to have staying power. Products are created for a specific purpose or “as ideas suggested themselves.” Either way, it’s always on his own accord and not because of what others are doing.

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Learn Faster While Also Helping Others

 

Researchers have found that the best way to learn something is to teach as you learn. Over at PsyBlog, Jeremy Dean explains why:

People recall more and learn better when they expect to teach that information to another person, a new study finds…

The likely reason why this fairly simple trick works is that it tends to automatically activate more successful learning strategies, the kind routinely used by teachers…

The authors explain: “When teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure. Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.”

If you want to learn a new language, how to program, or anything else for that matter: find a friend to teach as you learn. You’ll retain more information, be better equipped to use it, and help someone else out too.

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