The Focus Course

You Have Ideas

But what you need, is more bad ideas.

I think we put far too much emphasis on the when, where, why, and how of good ideas.

We should talk more about the when, where, why, and how of bad ideas.

We all need to have more bad ideas.

More crappy first drafts.

More embarrassing design mock ups.

More trials.

More experiences.

More failures.

More awkward moments.

Something I mentioned in my previous article was about how this world we now live in, where everyone has the internet in their pocket, is totally new. Nobody has ever lived like this before.

And one of the things that comes with having the internet in our pocket is that we can share moments and slices of our life with the world.

But most of us are sharing the highlights. We share the best photos of the grandest places. Which is fine. But it also can cause a slight sense of disillusionment.

Gee, everyone I follow on Instagram lives in the mountains or on the beach and eats incredible food. I live in the suburbs and had a tunafish sandwich for lunch.

When we see other people’s beautiful Instagram lives and fine-tuned Pinterest taste, we think they live like that 24/7.

It can be challenging when we start to overlap the perfect and curated “world” we see through our smartphones and the messy and challenging world we live through our own eyes and skin.

That’s why you need to have more bad ideas.

Ideas are good for the soul. They’re good for your creative imagination. They’re brain food. They help you build motivation. But it’s not just good ideas that build motivation — bad ideas do this too.

When was the last time you had a real whopper of a terrible idea?

You’re probably embarrassed to even recall. As if having a bad idea is the same as farting at dinner.

It’s not the same; not the same at all. We need bad ideas. You need bad ideas.

Out of ten thousand ideas, only one of them might be truly great.

If you sit around waiting for the great one, how are you going to get it?

And then (well, this is a topic for another post, but what I’m trying to say is that) once you have a great idea, that’s only the very beginning… Taking action on your idea is what matters most.

How to Strengthen Your Creative Imagination

So here you are.

Standing at a place that is “Not Amazing” and you’re trying to get over there to “Amazing.”

There is no shortcut except to go through the mud of “Not Yet Amazing.”

I want to have more bad ideas, more terrible first drafts, more embarrassing design mock ups, more failures, and more awkward moments.

While that may sound like the worst Christmas List ever, what it actually means is I want to try harder and have less fear of failure.

More bad ideas + more terrible first drafts + more failed attempts = means more work created.

. . . . .

Here are some thoughts about ideas, and why I think you should try and come up with more (bad) ideas every day.

Ideas Are a Commodity
If you think ideas are rare it’s because you’re not used to coming up with any.

The more ideas you come up with, then the more ideas you’ll come up with.

Bad ideas are a dime a dozen, so there should be no fear in giving them away and sharing them early and often.

In fact, a bad idea in your hands might be a great idea in someone else’s.

That’s because…

People are Greater Than Ideas
In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull writes about how people are far more important than ideas. Saying:

If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better. The takeaway here is worth repeating: Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.

Catmull also writes about how ideas are not singularly, perfectly-formed things. They’re half-thoughts. What-ifs, hunches, gut feelings, whispers of a dream, foggy afternoons.

That’s why…

A Bad Idea Does Not Reflect Your Talent, Character, or Taste
If you’re in an environment where you are afraid to share a bad idea, you need to change that environment.

Don’t despise your own bad ideas and don’t despise other people’s.

We put so much emphasis on only having good ideas that we’ve assumed this posture where all ideas should be acted on. That’s silly. Just because you’ve had an idea doesn’t mean it now must be cared for and built.

Feel free to have lots and lots of horrible ideas and then throw them out. Give yourself freedom to have bad ideas. Give everyone you know — your friends, family, co-workers, bosses, peers, strangers you meet while standing in line at the coffee shop — permission to have bad ideas.

In fact, why not just…

Start With the Worst Idea You Can
I dare you.

Seriously, why not?

What is it you’re stuck on right now?

What is the worst possible solution to that problem?

Coming up with a bad idea is so much easier than coming up with a good one. Start with the worst idea you can and let that build your momentum.

Bad ideas often become the stepping stones to good ideas.

As you get more comfortable coming up with many ideas all of the time, you’ll learn to adapt this very important rule, which is…

Don’t be a Slave to the Tyranny of a New Idea
Ever feel like you have more ideas than time?

Having too many ideas is not a dilemma.

The dilemma would be to have no ideas at all.

We think having more ideas than time is a dilemma because new ideas are exciting, and many people feel obligated to act on them and do something about them right away.

Don’t feel obligated to act on your new, good idea.

It’s okay to let good ideas die — or at least let them wait around until the timing is better.

Because more important than coming up with ideas is finishing them.

You don’t have to act on every idea you come up with. Don’t give in to the tyranny of a new idea simply because it’s new.

Believe me when I say that…

Great Ideas Come Back
About 5 years ago (back in 2014) we completely re-designed and re-booted the Tools & Toys website.

I brainstormed with my team, worked with our designer, and we made something awesome.

Then, about 5 months later, I stumbled across a page in my notebook that was from two years prior (2012).

On the page was a list of goals and ideas I had for Tools & Toys. And the list was filled with the exact same outline of goals and ideas that we’d just implemented!

I had written it, forgot about it, and two years later when I was starting over “from scratch” those ideas came right back and I didn’t even know it. Oy.

But two years can be a long time to wait on an idea.

Sometimes an idea won’t let you go…

You know the ones I’m talking about. And so, in those cases, try to act quickly because…

Ideas Can Demise Over Time
When an idea truly grabs ahold of you, keeps you up at night, and wakes you up early in the morning, then it’s time to take action.

You know what I’m talking about. If and when you can, act on those best ideas quickly. When they grab ahold of you like that, it means they’ve got life on them.

When an idea has life on it like that…

Listen to What Your Idea Wants
Eventually the idea will take over.

It will begin to think for itself.

It will have its own needs and wants.

Listen to it. What does it want? What other ideas are branching out from this original one?

This happened to me as I was writing my book, The Power of a Focused Life, back in 2014.

I spent 5 months writing the first draft. Then as I was doing research and working on the second draft I realized that this idea wanted to be different than what I originally imagined.

In response, I turned the book upside down, pulled it all apart, and re-wrote everything from scratch to create The Focus Course instead.

I never would have built the Focus Course if I hadn’t first started with plans for a book.

I needed to be in the midst of that project before I could see where it was ultimately headed.

It’s a rule of the universe of creativity that…

Action Brings Clarity
Once you start moving and acting on an idea, then you begin to get clarity about what the next step needs to be.

It’s okay not to have it all figured out before you begin.

Just begin, and let your feet take you.

. . . . .

Challenge: Come up with 5 ideas today


Because the ability to solve interesting problems is an integral part of doing our best creative work.

And doing work that matters means having the guts to try things that might not work.

If you are a slave to every single new idea then you’ll never have the focus to finish a single thing.

And if you are afraid that your idea might be a bad one, you’ll never even get started in the first place.

After you’ve come up with your 5 ideas, share them with me on Twitter.