Ideas are not truths.
Ideas are wafts of imaginations, flights of fancy, and daydreams of insight. There is never complete certainty about an idea. If an idea were certain then it wouldn't be just an idea.
"I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else" - Pablo Picasso
Except we tend to treat ideas as if they are certain. At least for our own ideas, we look upon them as if they are fact rather than mere possibilities. We see our ideas as obviously and completely correct that they are not even worth discussing.
This is because we emotionally connect with our ideas. We tie some piece of our identity, and thus emotions, to each of our ideas. Specifically we connect our emotions to the success or failure of our ideas.
If we have an idea that later becomes proven and real then we feel a deep sense of pride for our achievement. If we have an idea that we think is brilliant and it is later proven to be a bad idea then we feel utterly terrible.
How do we fix this? One idea would be to attempt to learn how to untangle our emotions from the ideation process. Useful but difficult to implement. I suggest trying a different approach.
I suggest giving each idea the Schrodinger treatment.
Schrodinger's Cat is a paradoxical thought experiment often used in reference to debates in the field of quantum physics. For the full description and background information read this wikipedia article.
But the TLDR version is: There is a cat inside a box which, depending on the outcome of a semi-random event, could be dead or alive. From outside the box we do not know the state of the cat so theoretically the cat is considered both dead and alive simultaneously (that is until we open the box and find out).
I try to apply the same thinking to ideas.
By this point you are probably wondering what crazy stuff I've been smoking and whether the local mental institution has any room for me. The answers are nothing and no they don't.
The reason I bring up Schrodinger's Cat is because I try to apply Schrodinger's thinking to ALL my ideas. I called it Schrodinger's Idea. And yes I just lamely bastardised the name of a thought experiment named after an old Austrian physicist. I'm hitting new highs with my writing.
But when I say Schrodinger's Idea I mean that whenever I have a new idea that I think is brilliant I challenge myself to consider why the idea is also terrible. Like Schrodinger's cat I aim to hold two opposing views about my idea simultaneously. I want to think that my idea is both brilliant and terrible at the same time.
Instead of getting carried away by my brilliant idea I stop and ponder the opposing view. I try to act as if I am the person refuting the idea. Essentially, I red-team my own idea.
In the start-up and business worlds this is exactly what investors are doing when someone pitches an idea to them. They listen and then they challenge it by pretending to be on the opposing side. They poke it from all angles, stretch it, and try to find holes. They explore the possibilities and consider the alternatives before deciding if the idea is worth investing in.
Intelligent people preparing to pitch an idea to investors will anticipate these questions by essentially the same process as Schrodinger's Idea.
But why leave it to those select few moments when ideas are being prepared as pitches for investment? Why not apply the Schrodinger approach to all our ideas?
Why Schrodinger's Idea works
The benefits of applying Schrodinger's Idea to ideas essentially boils down to two potential outcomes - you either hate your idea OR you love your idea.
Result One: You hate the idea
Fantastic! This is a wonderful outcome because you can drop the stupid idea without wasting any more time on it. By testing your idea early, and discovering it doesn't hold up well, you minimise your waste. You save your valuable time and energy for later, for better ideas.
That sounds pretty good. So good I thought I'd whip this diagram up showing why it's good:
Less time on bad ideas leads to more time on good ideas which leads to more success.
Schrodinger's Idea FTW!
Result Two: You love the idea
If you have given an idea the Schrodinger treatment and come out the other side still interested in pursuing it then congratulations. You have an idea that is actually worth pursuing! Better yet you know it is worth pursuing.
Anything that passes the robust Schrodinger analysis is an idea worthy of further effort.
Plus, you now know the main arguments people will come up with so you can prepare for them. You know what opponents will think because you were your own opponent first. You will be much more likely to succeed in convincing others about your good idea when you can effectively counter negatives they raise.
Schrodinger's Idea FTW!
How to apply Schrodinger's Idea
The method for applying Schrodinger to your ideas is not a simple list of things you can tick off like a recipe. It is a mindset you need to cultivate in yourself and constantly work on.
Remember that the point of applying Schrodinger to ideas is to attempt to hold competing and opposing views simultaneously. It's not just a simple pros and cons exercise but an attempt to truly understand, and believe, that an idea is both brilliant and terrible at the same time.
The simplest method for doing so is to ask yourself the opposing negative question for every positive point you have about your idea.
- People are going to love [idea] >>>>> Why will people hate [idea]?
- [Idea] is going to make me rich >>>>> How could [dea] make me lose all my money?
- I am the grand master of the world! >>>>> You need help, not Schrodinger.
Just asking yourself these type questions will trigger some deeper and more awkward thought around your idea. This is good. This is healthy. Once you start having answers, and possible solutions, to those questions is when you know you have an idea that is heading in the right direction.