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“this is probably a stupid idea….” the keys to creativity

On July 26th covering

I have learned that when people preface a comment with a disclaimer like “this is probably a stupid idea”, they are about to say something really great, so I listen up.

Variations on this include “this is probably really naive”, “I’m probably wrong about this”, “this is probably irrelevant”, etc. I have a friend who will say “this is totally naive, but…” and then say something brilliant.

I’ve noticed that practically every good idea I ever had first occurred to me as a joke. I think this works in the same way:

When we have an actual new idea, there is some feeling it’s risky. I think it’s largely about the shame of hoping you’ve created something new and the fear it’s just lame and pathetic. The feeling of embarrassment makes the disclaimer seem somehow necessary.

The disclaimer — either “this is stupid/naive” or the implicit “this is just a joke, never mind, nothing but silliness here” gives us temporary protection from the emotional risk of thinking something new, making a new connection or an audacious claim. It creates a little zone of play and make-believe where it doesn’t really count. So we can actually let a new idea come out.

So when you feel the need to apologize for an idea — listen carefully to what you say next. It might be great.

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