Pursue ideas, from bad to elegant

Chances are the ‘breakthrough’ idea we all take for granted looked very different at the start. Creativity experts caution against expecting ideas to emerge perfectly formed. “A good flow is critical because ideas usually do not start out auspiciously,” write Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer in The Idea Hunters. “Seldom are they served on a silver platter…with all the trimmings. More often than not, they’ll appear as a single ingredient…which needs to be cooked together with many other ingredients.” Sometimes even a bad idea is good, says Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. A television industry veteran, Adams says writers often use ‘the bad version’ to get things going: “When you feel that a plot solution exists, but you can’t yet imagine it, you describe a bad version that has no purpose other than stimulating the other writers to imagine a better version.” Matthew May, innovation expert and author, is obsessed with finding elegant solutions, ideas that achieve the maximum effect through the minimum means. In Sweden once on a speaking tour, he was told: “’You must go to Holland. They have eliminated all the traffic controls and signs at high traffic intersections, and traffic accidents have been cut in half, and traffic flows twice as well.’ I went, I saw, I wrote. It…remains one of the most compelling stories I tell.”

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