The fragile nature of a new idea

I’m a writer – well, sort of.  Couched within my job as an Extension Educator is the expectation that I’ll write. Fact sheets, flyers, marketing materials, news articles…Extension folks write stuff. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of really good – and a few not so skilled – writers. And great or bad, every writer needs a good editor – someone who can help clarify ideas, find embarrassing typos, and get those commas where they belong.

I’ve served as an editor as often as I’ve been a writer, which is why I never forget that the act of writing is kind of amazing – it’s like creating something from nothing; and editing is like taking that new creation and sanding away the rough the edges. The effort it takes to write – to fill a page (or more likely, a computer screen) that was once  void of any intelligence or creativity, with information, poetry, ideas, solutions, questions – takes effort, imagination, and courage.

Idea exchangeWriting isn’t the only creative venture that takes courage. This same philosophy also applies to generating ideas. Countless times, I’ve been in meetings where folks are brainstorming ideas to address an issue; then someone begins to strike down the ideas, edit (kill) them, until all that’s left is a pile of bright, shiny potential covered with slimy, gray criticism. Okay, calm down, I know that the dialogue balancing creativity and evaluation is essential. My point is that we should make it a practice to acknowledge the fragile nature of new ideas and occasionally provide a protected environment to allow some of the better thoughts to take root and grow. New ideas are like fragile bubbles, floating out in the open, in full daylight, where anyone with an opinion, an agenda, or a little indigestion from lunch, can pop them.

Noted Nobel Prize scientist and humanitarian, Dr. Linus Pauling shared, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Of course, not every idea is a good one; in fact many are probably not workable. But plenty of good things have come from crazy ideas – like digital cameras, the Apollo space program, and imitation crab meat (okay, some things are a matter of taste). Without those people who are willing to take a risk on a novel idea, we would never have experienced the joy of flying, the convenience of the Post-It Note, or sweet pulp of a seedless watermelon. So the next time you’re in a meeting and presented with an innovative or unusual idea, take a moment before sharing why you think it won’t work, and consider all of the unlikely reasons that it may just be brilliant.

(Submitted by Becky Nesbitt, Assistant Professor and Extension Educator, Ohio Valley EERA)

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