The three words, “This is stupid,” when applied to ideas have ruined many a promising writing career. (And careers in other creative fields, as well.) If they haven’t yet ruined your career, they’ve probably made you miserable a time or two by making you second guess everything you do. My personal favorite is when those three words make you furious. You know how it goes: It turns out something wasn’t stupid after all and now someone else is having success with the idea you dismissed. Then you really feel stupid.
“This is stupid” is the thing we hear in our heads every time we have an idea for a new book, a marketing strategy, or pretty much anything requiring creativity. You don’t hear it? Lucky you. Move along, please.
For the rest of us, these three words can make us stop what we’re doing. No one wants to look like an idiot, after all. It goes back to our childhoods when trying new things and standing out in any way were often punished by our peers. Oh, you thought that new hair color was cool, or running for school office was a good idea? Hah! You look like an idiot.
Yeah, we’ll do almost anything to protect ourselves from that sort of censure. We must avoid looking stupid at all costs. This means that we give up on book ideas that are too far afield. We don’t try that marketing idea that means standing out from the herd (even though, ironically, that’s what marketing is all about). We throw out that idea for a unique book cover. All because we’re afraid that it’s stupid.
Of course, very few ideas are truly stupid. Sure, it may not achieve your desired results or find an audience, but that doesn’t mean it was stupid. It just means it didn’t connect for whatever reason. And it’s not permanent. Very few things you do will stick wth you forever, even if they are rather uncool. You can simply try again. I mean, even 80’s hair could be cut and refashioned. And stirrup pants went away…
We are masters, though, of stopping ourselves from even trying. We simply mutter, “This is stupid,” and it lets us off the hook. Tossing that idea into the round file is okay because it was stupid. The problem is, if you do this with every idea, you’re never going to get anywhere.
So how do you get past, “This is stupid,” and learn to follow through on your ideas?
Remove as much of the stupid as you can.
So you think your idea is stupid. Why? Figure out what’s bothering you and fix it. Do you not have the knowledge to follow through? Learn stuff. Is it because you think there’s too much out there like your idea already? Do some research and figure out how your idea differs. Are you afraid it will make you look bad or crazy? Why do you think that and can you tone it down a bit to reduce that fear?
Take some time and figure out why you think your idea is stupid and then do all that you can to fix it. In the process, you might realize it’s not really stupid, you were just having a knee-jerk reaction.
Ask yourself, “So what?” and “Who cares?”
These two questions are often the antidote to the stupid poison. So what if your idea is stupid? Will it ruin your life? Someone else’s life? Is it dangerous? Illegal? If it’s none of these things, it’s probably fine. The worst that will happen is that it won’t work and you’ll try something else. And if it doesn’t work, well, then, who cares? We think people are looking at us far more often than they really are. Most people don’t give a flying fart in space what you do, so your “stupid” idea won’t even register on their radar. They might chuckle for half a second before moving on to the things that really concern them, like what’s on TV tonight.
Have Blue Sky time.
When I worked at Disney, they had a thing called “Blue Sky.” In the early stages of a project’s development, everyone was welcome to contribute an idea. This wasn’t limited to the project team, either. The janitor, secretary, or limo driver could throw out their ideas. No idea was judged at first; everything went into the great big soup of creativity. Only later were the ideas culled. Some were dropped for budgetary reasons, some got combined with other ideas and made into something better, and others were dropped because they didn’t work for whatever reason. But every idea got its moment in the sun where everyone had to consider it and come up with a real reason why it wouldn’t work.
Do the same for your ideas. Don’t toss them prematurely. Put them into an idea file and force yourself (at some later time) to look at them objectively. They may not be “stupid” but they may be unaffordable, better combined into something else, or truly unworkable for whatever reason. At least this way, if you discard an idea you know it was for a good reason. Not simply because you believed it to be “stupid.”
Never forget that you can always start over.
Very few things in life are permanent. Do-overs are allowed. So the book idea isn’t working by page 100. You can trunk it and start again. The marketing idea isn’t gaining traction? Ditch it and think of something else. Someone laughed at your website? You can change it. Moving on is the name of the game.
Remember that stupid is in the eye of the beholder.
It’s true that one person may look at your idea and laugh. However, it’s equally true that another person may look at it and say, “That’s awesome.” As with anything in the arts, what’s stupid and what’s not is subjective. If what you’re doing is working for some people, then that has to be good enough. You’re never going to achieve 100% consensus. (There are people out there who think that Harry Potter is the dumbest thing ever written, or that Star Wars should never have been made.) If you like your idea, chances are there are at least some people out there who will like it, too, especially if you can bring it off with aplomb.
Remember that the only stupid thing is doing nothing.
Leaving your career in neutral because you think everything is stupid is the stupidest thing you can do. You have to try. Over time, it becomes easier to trust your ideas and separate the truly stupid from the scary, difficult, and impossible. Do something and then do something else. To do otherwise is just stupid.
(Photo courtesy of salmerf)