Helping Creative People Create

Ride That Bad Idea to the Glue Factory

by glen

bad idea
At the last SXSW Jonathan amazed me with the sheer number of blog posts that he throws away.

According to Mr. Fields, a healthy portion of his post ideas never get published, for one reason or another. I’d bet that most of the really good writers you find online are the same way.

It’s amazing how we think that every time a great writer sits down at the keyboard, magic prints out. What we don’t know is how many times those writers have read, re-read, edited and cut bits of their writing before they publish. Heck, many articles might not even see the light of day even after they’ve been written.

When I write posts for this blog, I’ll often let them marinate for a while in the semi-finished stage. I currently have a folder full of post ideas, ranging from a couple sentences to nearly completed articles. Many will never see the light of day because they were bad ideas to begin with, and others just might not be relevant enough to this blog’s audience.

Is it wasteful? Hardly. If I wrote every post idea I’ve ever scribbled down, I’d have a blog full of random scatterbrained thoughts. (More random than you’re getting right now, at least.) And there would be so much content that the rare good nuggets would be buried beneath the really mediocre stuff.

bad ideas

The sad truth is that not all ideas are created equal. It’s just the way it works. You have to ruthlessly pare ideas down to the best, and only focus on the ones that are home runs. (Magnificent beats Mediocre every time.)

So, if we know that not all ideas are created equal, then how do we figure out which ones to work on? What makes an idea a “bad idea”?

When working on our ideas, there usually comes a low point after the initial excitement surrounding the idea wears off. The honeymoon period is over, and you’re starting to see your idea with all it’s faults and wrinkles.

Seth Godin describes this process in The Dip. Deciphering which ideas are actually worth shooting for isn’t an easy task. Sometimes it takes working through the low point, other times it means quitting altogether.

I’m not a huge proponent of quitting, but sometimes it’s the best option. Sometimes you just have to ride that bad idea to the glue factory, and start over with a fresh one.

I have a friend who’s building a service that, between you and I, wasn’t that great of an idea to begin with. But my friend powered ahead, working on the idea solely because “he believed in it”. Here’s a secret: just because you believe in something doesn’t make it a better idea.

Deep down he knew he was wasting his time and resources on something that was destined to fail, but he did anyway because he thought it honorable, part of the “entrepreneurs code”. He wanted to be an entrepreneur so badly that it blinded his judgement on how good his idea was.

It’s easy to get caught up in the romance of an idea in the early stages. But at some point you either have to power through the lull that follows, or quit the idea altogether.

The process is painful, but it becomes easier with practice. And who says you have to throw away the idea? Keep it around for nostalgic reasons. You might even find that the idea might reappear in a better way over time. You just never know.

***

We only have so many hours in the day. Spending time on mediocre ideas or projects is a disservice to you, and it’s definitely shortchanging the rest of us. Everyone wins when you’re spending time on only your best ideas.

You might have to toss some ideas. Some might have even felt like home runs at the start, but deep down you knew they were just singles or doubles. Toss ’em! You’ll thank yourself in the long run.

Anyway, what are your thoughts? At what point will you quit an idea?

Photo by samantha celera

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Eduard @ People Skills Decoded August 5, 2010 at 8:39 am

Definitely agree. I used to have this irrational fear that I will run out of ideas for my blog posts and I had this tendency to write about every topic which came to mind. I eventually realized how silly my fear was and how that’s not the way to build a good brand. Now, only my best ideas see the light ;)

Cheers,

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glen August 5, 2010 at 8:43 am

Yeah, often less is more when it comes to writing or ideas in general. Don’t worry though… I’ve done the same thing :)

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Bridget August 5, 2010 at 9:20 am

Why do people think that some half-hatched ideas are failures? They’re not. They are things tried that didn’t pan out.
Edison, who tried 10,000 times to get his bulb to work, said that he discovered 10,000 ways it didn’t work. I love that. I love all the learning that occurred because he “failed”.
Great post.

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glen August 5, 2010 at 10:43 am

Agreed. Learning is failure. There is a fine line between persistence and stupidity though. I’m proof of that ;)

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Penelope J. August 5, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Still in the learning process. How to toss out mediocre or not so good ideas. How to gauge which are mediocre, poor, tepid, good, and great. Made the mistake early on of posting what I thought was a great idea and got almost no response. Saw more response to and interest in a secondary subject rather than the one I want to focus on. Have to work my way through the bramble bush.
Thanks for your advice.

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glen August 6, 2010 at 9:12 am

It’s tough to gauge, isn’t it? I try to write for myself. That way I’ll a) attract like-minded people thinking/struggling with the same things and b) because it feels natural :) Sometimes a post with one, really great comment is better than hitting the Digg front page, in my opinion. (I’ve had both, and really… it can be true.)

Bramble on! :)

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Cory Huff August 5, 2010 at 4:35 pm

I have lots of ideas. Most of them don’t see the light of day. I keep a Moleskin notebook with me at all times to write them down. Usually the good ones crop up again and again, and I never have to go back to the notebook.

Occasionally, though, I go back through and find a little nugget that I can add to an existing blog post, or that dovetails nicely with a marketing idea.

Bad blog posts? Don’t even get me started. I look back some of my old stuff and cringe. I’ve even purged some of the especially egregious. Right now I have 20+ posts in Draft. Most of them will probably never see the light of day.

Being creative can be a curse of clutter and excess – but I see it as fun!

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glen August 6, 2010 at 9:08 am

Being creative can be a curse of clutter and excess – but I see it as fun!

Exactly. If the process was simple and clean all the time, then anyone could do it :)

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Karl Staib - Work Happy Now August 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Being a great blogger is difficult. We have to be our own editors. I know I struggle in this area. It’s why good magazines are easy and fun to ready. The writer creates and the editor rips it up, suggest fixes, give it back to the writer to create a more polished piece.

My wife edits for mistakes, but crafting the piece so my readers are interested is really the hardest part. I get a little better every day, but I’m a long way from being perfect.

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glen August 6, 2010 at 8:58 pm

It’s nice that you can get an outside set of eyeballs (your wife) to look over your content. Good idea Karl!

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Michelle Adams August 6, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I’ve written plenty of posts when I’ve been fired up about something and the end result, although making the points, can have quite a negative tone. Now I’ve learned the art of ‘sleeping on it’ and pressing delete or rewriting in a less assertive tone. :)

I’ll quit an idea when I realise it’s not doing me or anyone else any good, and or, when my accountant (my husband!) tells me the idea is not financially viable. I’ve tended to see quitting as admitting defeat which I don’t like to do…but as you say Glen, there is a fine line between persistence and stupidity, lol.

What a thought provoking post, thanks!

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glen August 6, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Yeah, that’s another issue: is it financially viable? Geez. Oftentimes that’s the last thing I think about. Oops. Glad you’re one step ahead of us Michelle ;)

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Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot August 6, 2010 at 10:09 pm

It’s confusing isn’t it – shipping and sorting the good from the bad. I love reading your posts and they seem to come at a good time for me. I have 45 draft posts on my blog. Time to delete some of them I think and pave the way for others:)

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Vince August 8, 2010 at 6:51 pm

I have so many ideas that I am more inclined to abandon them too soon. Many bad ideas lead to the next good idea so dumping them is just one more step to greatness I guess.

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glen August 9, 2010 at 8:08 am

Yeah, it’s a tough balance. Especially when you’re generating ideas like a madman :)

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