How to raise an idea.
Coming up with ideas is a gut-wrenching business. It’s a sour-tasting cocktail of hard work mixed with pain, uncertainty and false-alarm euphoria in equal measure. The moment of release, therefore, is something to be cherished. And it is not for nothing that the result is – albeit slightly awkwardly – dubbed “my baby”. For this metaphor betrays the way in which we relate to the products of our creative energies: we nurture them, care for them, protect them.
So, dearest parents, let us revisit the idea/child analogy. Because, unlike this age-old analogy, much has changed.
There was once a time when the birth of an idea accounted for three quarters of its success. Its ancestry was everything. Things could only turn sour if you really messed up with the upbringing. These days, good genes are still a basic criterion, but we have since discovered that things only really begin after birth. Upbringing has become the most important factor. And even then, it is the environment that determines whether or not the infantile idea will grow up to be a success.
And so, 5 words of advice for raising ideas:
- Don’t send premature ideas into the world. Grossly negligent, actually. For however sublime the idea may be, it won’t survive long! Give every idea the time it needs to grow. Make it bigger. Is it part of a broader vision for the future or is it to remain a one-shot wonder? Is it strong enough to stand on its own two feet in a headwind?
- Avoid being overprotective. Protecting your idea is a virtue, but don’t smother it to death! An idea will only survive if it is exposed to harsh reality during its development. Think of the mother-in-law test. Accept criticism from both expected and unexpected sources. Adjust things where necessary. And allow influences from outside. Specialists either in-house or out, may have older opinions than yours. And your idea can only benefit from them.
- Give your idea more and more responsibility. “Lean” thinking may come from the world of digital start-ups yet its basic premise is uncannily poignant for many ideas. Why develop a fully polished project before sending it out into the world when you can just as well share a beta version with your (selected) audience? The advantages of being able to make live adjustments on the fly cannot be overestimated.
- Don’t give up during puberty. Ideas are great when they’re young, cute and manageable. But the transition to adulthood is no bowl of cherries. Unexpected problems may make you want to start again from scratch. But that’s exactly when you should grit your teeth and dig in. The end is in sight.
- Let go. Maybe the hardest part about raising an idea is learning how to let go. You’ve worked on it day and night for months and invested the full spectrum of emotions into it. You’ve ensured that your idea has grown into what it is today. But now it’s time to let go. Your responsibility ends here. A well-nurtured idea should be able to stand up to criticism from both competitors and consumers. But no idea can stand up to the nefarious effects of a meddling parent! After all, it is the environment that will turn your idea into a success, not you.
Luckily, the process of upbringing is open to interpretation. Everyone has their own methods but that doesn’t mean one is better than the other. But keep this in mind above all else: it is nurture and not nature that determines the success of an idea.