Attending a school devoted to science and technology almost exclusively, has brought me into divinity of some sort. Being around student Scientists, Engineers, Architects, Builders, Surveyors, Technicians and Technologists has brought me to the appreciation of the power of ideas. I have seen massive projects emerge from nothing save a faint idea. I discovered that Ideas could be generated in a serene, peaceful, humorous and mentally-stimulating atmosphere; but the production of ideas isn’t my interest in this article
In a Chemistry conference, where I had the privilege of receiving an award on behalf of my school, the keynote speaker made a remark in his submission that lends a strong argument for my initial statement. He referred to Chemists as second-generation creators, God’s creation-successors as it were. To quote the professor,
“God gave Chemists the second power of creation. He created everything out of nothing, and has given to the Chemist, the second power of creation, to create something out of something”.
Contemplating this phenomenon, I elect to share with you nine characteristics of ideas and practical steps in harnessing and executing them. I am further encouraged to do this piece as it dawns strongly upon me that our very being is precedent upon an idea. Human beings existed first and foremost as an idea on God’s mind: “Before I [God] formed thee in the belly I knew thee…” (Jer. 1:5). On this note, let me go ahead to delineate some of the characteristics of ideas as I see them.
#1 Ideas Are ‘Spiritual’
Recently I needed to check up the word “Museum” only to make an interesting discovery. I found out the etymology of its root word “muse” was connected to the nine goddess of Greek and Roman Mythology associated with Arts and Creativity. This is one more reason I love the dictionary. It offers useful digressions and stray paths. Never gone astray amidst words while in search of another?
Back to the road; I lined up this insight with the words of Jesus Christ to Rabbi Nicodemus and came to the conclusion that ideas have a spiritual essence. In John’s Gospel account, Chapter 3 verses 8, Rabbi Jesus speaking to the older Rabbi notes, “…The wind goes where its pleasure takes it, and the sound of it comes to your ears, but you are unable to say where it comes from and where it goes …”(BBE).
Haven’t you wondered sometimes what the origin of that idea was from? How do you explain the ubiquity of ideas; or do I say omnipresence? One minute you’re struck with a thought, at almost the same instant, a dozen other people seem to be possessed by the same. Even Albert Einstein wondered why a lot of his ideas occurred while shaving!
Ideas are intangible, real, invisible and practically indestructible.
“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.” – Charles Dickens
#2 Ideas Alter the Mind’s Dimensions
What do I mean by this? You would appreciate this if you have ever been caught by the net of TV Series. The makers of these screenplays employ the trick of suspense. They cut the tape just when you wanted to know what was to happen next. And if you have been a victim of this TV Series Attack, you will agree that until the next broadcast, your body chemistry was removed from its normal state. That is the effect of an idea on the human mind.
“One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
There is the good and bad side of this behavior of ideas. On the good side, the implication is that, if a good idea is entertained in the mind, it expands the bearer’s capacity for goodness and graciousness. On the other hand, an evil thought is capable of forging tools for the vilest thoughts and actions. Don’t you know this by experience? But note also that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
#3 Ideas Always Appear Absurd and Dangerous
“Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are just produced.” – Alfred North Whitehead
Ever since I set foot on the planet, I never heard of any idea that impressed everyone before it got executed or survived on their votes. By nature ideas are only loved and appreciated by the owners. Every other person either considers them ridiculous or perilous. Those who see it as absurd scoff, the other who view it as unsafe fight it.
If your idea is facing any of the above mentioned reactions, accept my hearty congratulations; for as Oscar Wilde remarked: “An idea not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”
In fact I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you challenge the sanity of your own ideas. It is said, “New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done; 2) It probably can be done, but it is not worth doing; 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!” (Arthur C. Clarke).
#4 Ideas Are Like Chess Pieces
I sat in a meeting where the quintessential Ghanaian Businessman, Ghana’s Most Respected CEO 2009 told his story, the success of his latest business, UT Bank. He recounted the formation of several companies; from the timber company until he got into the world of banking and finance.
Prince Kofi Amoabeng’s story at the Springboard Roadshow 2011 isn’t peculiar. The same lines run in the scripts of all great enterprise I have come across. Ideas sometimes sacrifice themselves for the overall good. They are like Chess Pieces and the game of Chess.
I don’t play Chess – I wish to learn and play more actively soon – but thanks to my kid brother and friends I have a passable knowledge of the vocabulary of the game. And one thing I know is that in Chess, like war, “collateral damage” is expected. The Puns in the game of Chess are usually the first to go. But Von Goethe said, “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward: they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.”
The lesson here is simple. Start with what you have. The first one may die; but if and when it dies, pull out another from your pool, and yet another. You will be on your way to a Checkmate sooner than you thought.
#5 Ideas Rule the World
Everything we see in the world is a product of an idea carefully nurtured to its present state. The idea and product could be good or bad; nevertheless, it is the fruit of a man’s thought.
Bear a few examples. Remember Sir Alexander Graham Bell and Adolf Hitler? Both Europeans had an idea that forever changed the face of time and history. Humanity has never been the same after these men decided to make good of the seeds of thought germinating in the very dark recesses of their rather fertile minds.
While the former would be forever applauded for easing the problem of communication by inventing the telephone, the latter would never be forgotten for the dastardly acts he perpetrated against fellow men in the name of fascism; his massacre of millions of Jews and provoking World War II (WWII). Both men simply conceived and executed an idea. If this point has been taken in, I have no need of mentioning the Internet, a technology which has within three (3) decades dramatically changed the face of the earth. Or need I expatiate on the different suggestions of the governance of nations and states, which are ideas by the way? Ideas rule the world!
#6 Ideas are Haughty and Hasty
What Personal Finance Author, George Colson said of opportunity can easily be said of ideas, namely that “Opportunity is a haughty goddess who wastes no time with those who are unprepared.”
I have heard it said that ideas travel at the speed of over 299000 kilometres per hour. I have no idea how this calculation was done or what parameters were employed in arriving at this figure, but I think I understand. You probably know as I do the gush of ideas.
Haven’t you had a tantalizing idea, caressed it through the night in your mind only to see it on the front pages of the dailies? You could almost swear whoever did this owed you some royalty. You feel like litigating, don’t you? It’s like the other fellow has breached some patent rights and rules right? No, the ‘goddess’ called Idea flirts on the minds of every willing and available man, but weds only the prepared, active and discerning.
When next an idea hits your mind, dragging your feet in anticipation of the most favorable conditions would be a clear signal of losing her.
#7 Ideas Are Concentrated
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” – John Steinbeck
The simplest ideas when captured and explored often prove labyrinthine. The complexity and interrelatedness of an idea with many other areas of human life isn’t always obvious at the scratch.
This prospect is a potential scare for the lazy mind or busy worker, but it need not be. In fact, if anything, it should excite.
Let me explain. When Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes conceived the idea of Facebook, as a means to social networking, fortune wasn’t anywhere in their minds. Some of the widgets and applications available on that platform were probably alien to their thinking. They were just solving a problem of socialization on a school’s campus. Today, literally by the hour, modifications and upgrades are made. Unlike the early days, today for example, you could send a post to very specific List of Friends excluding all else.
The complexity of your idea should give you a hint about the magnitude of returns and promise it holds. The more complex your idea the more prospects it holds. It means it would need and serve more people and of course meet more needs. So do not be slack about it. If you do, the “haughty goddess” would move on. Someone else would take it up; it will succeed and you’d be the loser. You would have denied yourself the honour.
#8 Ideas are Transient
This needed to be explained and clarified. When an idea hits your mind, I like to see it as a spark. I compare this to the spark emerging from striking a matchstick in a windy day. You would realize that in the absence of nurturing viz. protection from the wind currents and combustible material, that potential inferno dies the shameful death of ashes.
In application, I find that in my personal experience, a lot of brilliant ideas have been lost because at the time of their birth, I wasn’t a good midwife. The whole idea ended as a stillbirth.
Haven’t you experienced this before; I mean coming by a great idea that left you unconscious of time and your environment by its sheer beauty, magnificence and excellence? But what happened? You probably promised to do something about it ‘later’ only to forget the string of ideas, the modus operandi or the entire thing however hard you tried.
I know what happened: the antagonistic winds of your everyday routine snuffed out the life of this great baby. It is akin to what Jesus says happens to the seed that fall among thorns – “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Matt. 13:22). How sad!
With this experience, I am instructed to do a few practical things, and I take the liberty of this platform to share with you.
To begin with, always keep a notebook and pen handy. If you are the gizmo type, your PDA, Tablet or Notebook should always be close by. The faintest stroke of the pen, it has been said, is sharper than the brightest mind. Don’t overate or overestimate your brain’s ability. Its capacity isn’t in doubt, but its agility is suspicious. For the avoidance of doubt and possible miscarriage, put down the idea as it flows in its rawest state. Don’t wait for it to get finer; forget the spelling errors and grammar. Don’t postpone this to some convenient time.
No matter how uncomely and minute the idea, just write it! As the German poet, author and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once remarked, “Just begin and the mind grows heated; continue, and the task will be completed” or as the celebrated author, Napoleon Hill wrote, “Do not wait, the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand…and better tools will be found as you go along”.
Furthermore, it would do a lot of good to put out all possible sources of distraction (‘winds’). Just like one igniting a fire in an open windy savannah would do, shielding the nascent flame with one hand, all distractions must be put out. Some of such distractions include the television, radio, music, chat on the internet, mobile phone, ongoing conversation and whatever activity being engaged in. I concede music for example could aid the idea-fermentation process (another matter of discourse), but it becomes a distraction especially when the lyrics are known, liked and sung along. You lose the train of thoughts, don’t you?
“A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.” – Ovid
Discuss the idea with like-minded, enthusiastic and practical people. Each category of persons in this tripod provides the requisite balance and measure of input absolutely necessary for success. To put it bluntly, NEVER SHARE AN IDEA WITH A PESSIMIST. They are dream killers, the most unfriendly quenching breeze of ideas.
“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.” – Charles Kettering
“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.” – Linus Pauling
I have so far compared Ideas to a spark of fire, but they could also be likened to fetus. Hence, they require a necessary gestation and nurturing period. Not every idea should commence as a project immediately. The fragility of an idea is such that if exposed too early suffers premature death – an unnecessary one at that.
Knowing the Expected Date of Delivery (or Expected Time of Delivery, EDD/ETD) of an idea is crucial. It comes with knowledge, understanding of the times and experience. Discernment here is key. And this discernment is not necessarily yours. Sharing the idea with the right sets of people including experienced ones lends you the priceless opportunity to employ the wisdom of the ages and aged.
Dr. Esi Ansah, Associate Professors at Ashesi University College, Founding Partner and CEO of Axis Human Capital Limited taught me to keep an “Idea Bank”. It is a simple spreadsheet template that allows the user to ‘save’ their ideas while understanding the ramifications, timing, range of timing etc. With this tool, you aren’t under pressure to put it forth fearing forgetfulness of the finer details.
A great idea implemented the wrong time not only means failure of the endeavor, but an opportunity for critics to cast aspersions on the abilities of the project implementer. Blacksmiths strike the deadliest blows only when the metal is red-glowing hot! And so must you. Then and only then are the results impact-ful, certain and undeniable.
“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo
On a lighter note, if ideas are fetuses, spiritual, absurd, dangerous, fleeting and at the same time rule the world; what kind of ruler-ship do we have on the planet? Having said all that has been said, a few things are clear; namely, that ideas are strongly connected to time, discernment, development, prosperity and fulfillment.
Your pursuit for “completion” in life is tied very closely and strongly to the ideas you generate, entertain, tend and execute in your life time. These celestial guests we call ideas, if hosted respectfully and diligently, would leave laughter in your mouth, household and generation. Conversely, these guests would leave the hot burning fires of regret in their wake if mistreated. The moment of reception and eventual execution of an idea is the special moment in anyone’s life. It is the moment for which that person was born; what British Statesman, Winston Churchill refers to as the “Finest Hour”. That hour must be looked upon with reverential awe. For as the American Revivalist put it: “The opportunity of a lifetime is in the lifetime of the opportunity”. Susu Biribi