No Good Ideas

A good idea and a dollar fifty will get you a cup of coffee.

The world is absolutely dripping with good ideas. They’re mostly useless. No matter how good they are, they’re ephemeral – they don’t do anything. It takes a tremendous outpouring of work to make anything real of them.

But good ideas aren’t actually necessary to make work worthwhile. You can avoid ever having a single moment of epiphany but still be very successful and happy with hard work, diligence, and prudence. Brilliance is not required.

Work is not only what turns ideas into value, it’s also the crucible in which ideas are tested. Ideas always seem brilliant when viewed in your own mind, but only exposure to the hard light of day can tell you for sure. Even telling a few other people takes some work – figuring out how to explain things, taking the time to do so, etc. And 90% of ideas won’t pass even that basic test.

Of course, even if ever single “good idea” was truly as good as its originator assumed, you still couldn’t act on them all. Ideas are infinite; juice is finite. All humans, whether the originators of ideas or not, need some criteria to decide what ideas (our own or others’!) to put our work towards.

One of the best ways to make your idea stand out is to work on it yourself. Think of ideas like single snowflakes – infinite in variation and possibly beautiful, but fragile, weightless, and lacking in any appreciable impact. A million of them gathered together might have some weight, but on their own they do little. But starting with a single snowflake, you can start to pack more and more snow around them, gathering momentum and weight; that’s the work you put in. Soon, that snow can be shaped into anything – and the bigger it gets, the more people will notice. If the thing you’re building appeals to them, they’ll want to help.

You can build a fine house without ever having a brilliant innovation in carpentry. But a brilliant architectural thought is meaningless without work. Cultivate the habits of work, then – don’t just sit around thinking. Do. The ideas, if they’re truly good, will come as they come.

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