Our friend Dr. Benjamin Hardy frequently quotes Robert Brault in Be Your Future Self Now: “We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”
This is true in our careers and businesses. And in the domain of ideas.
We are kept from the best ideas not by obstacles, but by a stubborn attachment to our old ones.
The Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus knew this all too well. “It is in changing that we find purpose,” he counseled. “Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.”
Unfortunately, challenging our beloved ideas in pursuit of the best ones means swimming against the current of our own psychology.
As Charlie Munger argues in The Psychology of Human Misjudgment, we are hard-wired to agree with the ideas we have an incentive to agree with and minimize our cognitive load.
Challenging cherished ideas calls for doing the opposite. Yet, it’s exactly what we need to do.
Luckily, the more ideas we have, the easier this becomes. As Thomas Edison said, “The key to having great ideas is having a lot of bad ones first.”
In the world of ideas, quantity leads to quality. The more ideas we capture, the more likely it is that one of them is the “big idea.” While it’s very tempting, we shouldn’t let the first “aha” moment blind us. The winner could be the tenth, the fiftieth, or if you’re Jeremy Utley and Perry Klebahn, the two-thousandth (they suggest an “idea ratio” of 2000 possibilities to one successful solution).
The trick is not to question them, but to capture them, prioritizing creativity over logic.
Then we can go to battle. Launch an all-out attack on our favorite ideas, throwing everything at them. We have to treat our own ideas the way our biggest detractor does. Challenge them with everything we’ve got, and then cherish the survivors more.
Either way, we learn. We learn what ideas are worth falling in love with, and the more stress they survive, the more value they truly hold.