“A pile of rocks ceases to be rocks when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.” Antoine St. Exupery
I have met a lot of people who have brilliant ideas. In fact, one of the things I like to do is to ask, point blank, “What’s the best idea you have ever had?” And if I really want to get inside someone’s head (and get a glimpse into their heart for that matter), I ask, “You have a brilliant idea right now…quick, what is it? Don’t think…just say it.”
I know some people who have found a way to walk in brilliant ideas. They’ve moved from having brilliant ideas to, frankly, just being brilliant. (That’s a discussion for another time).
Sean gets a picture in his mind of the website, and begins to build it…lines of code turn into the expression of his brilliant idea, making it more than a website—there is an idea behind it, and when I catch a glimpse of what he is after, I am amazed…never mind when the site actually launches!
Because I believe every person is gifted with these two things—creativity and their unique experience of the world—I believe there is at least one brilliant idea in every person, an idea struggling to find expression. The brilliant idea’s genesis is the words a person gives to it—and, I love to help people find the right words to their brilliant idea.
It goes something like this:
“What injustice makes you angry?” or “If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” or “If you had the budget, what great idea would you make into a reality?”
Then, one follow up question is all it takes—“Where would you start?” The second question makes the first question concrete.
Two things happen when we answer these two questions. First, we start to believe. The words are seeds of belief that begin to take root. You push through all the words that don’t fit. The part of the dream that is vanity gets chased away (well, maybe that takes some time). Your effort in choosing words makes you throw away the parts of your idea that are bad (yes, there are some bad ideas).
Your words also force into hand-to-hand combat “the doubting inner you,” who voices damaging words like, “That’s a stupid idea,” or “See, you aren’t creative,” or “That’s not a big enough/smart enough/important enough, etc., idea.” Or, worse, you think, “Don’t even entertain the hope for that!” Instead, “the determined you” has to speak to your idea, coax out of it the words that give it life. I love how Charles Dickens describes the process: “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”
It is also important to point out the more subtle struggle you’ll encounter with certain people in your life, who will come at you indirectly, offering the lukewarm praise that gets in your head, and causes doubt. You must choose carefully with whom you share your idea’s first words. Nothing damages a brilliant idea more than the wrong person getting a hold of it. The ancient writer Ovid pointed out that “a new idea is delicate” and that it can be “killed by a sneer or a yawn,” and “stabbed to death by a quip or worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.”
Brad, an attorney and long-time friend of mine, has a brilliant idea to shape a public school district’s policies in ways that strengthen families in the district, thus giving young people the character and confidence to lead the next generation’s impact on the world. It’s a long shot, and that’s what I love about it–he is working to change the world in a practical way.
Your words also expose your brilliant idea to the light, driving the roots deep, each perfect word giving life to the seed. When the words are the right words, a miracle of sorts happens…it starts to become real for others, not just you.
My mother-in-law’s words are simple: “I am stitching a quilt for Paul. What are his favorite colors?” A few months later, Meme’s life experiences and creativity emerge through the fabrics and the hours of meticulous cutting and stitching, creating a new and brilliant texture in Paul’s world—and, really for all our worlds. A brilliant idea come to life.
Maybe it’s a little like God breathing life into His best idea: “Then God formed and breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” We breath life into the brilliant idea we have through the words and the actions we give it.
The artists and writers help us. They give us the words for our brilliant ideas. Their words serve not only the story they are telling to us, but also for our own stories, the ones we are writing every day through our lives. Joseph Conrad said, “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.”
Kathy, my wife, sketches out a cartoon (cartoon characters she is known for by her friends and family). There emerges not just figures on a page–which are in themselves funny and brilliant–but also an insight about the relationships among the characters. She did this on Valentine’s Day about 30 years ago, a couple months before we got engaged, a sketch of me and her, standing at a garden, watching the plants and flowers grow. Her brilliant idea simply yet profoundly expressed through the cartoon–for me as real today as 30 years ago.
So, my question for you today is this: “You have a brilliant idea right now…quick, what is it? Don’t think…just say it.”
Start there. Give your brilliant idea the gift of your words.
And then, see what happens next.
(Next blog: Brilliant Ideas Need Actions—the Right Actions)
I would love to hear about your brilliant ideas. Respond to this blog, or confidentially at firstname.lastname@example.org.