Why good ideas can feel very bad

"The beginning of a very bad idea often feels very good. And the beginning of a very good idea can feel very bad." As Scott Berkun reminded me on Monday, the boundary-pushing, edge-defining creative act rarely makes complete initial sense, not least because its contextual elements aren't yet fully understood. Does it fit in this box or that? How similar or different is it to prior thinking? It is evolutionary or revolutionary? What might it mean for me?

We are metaphorical machines, always, always, always describing one thing in terms of another, and any idea, before being put to the test, is what we say it is.

As for the test, whether a potential breakthrough belongs in a new mathematical theorem or on stage in your local theater, doubt is a requirement for discovery. Take courage.

In his writerly lecture about "the shapes of stories" posted by Maria Popova, Kurt Vonnegut reminds us that we're often just as clueless about the meaning of personal experience. Popova uses Vonnegut's thinking on Hamlet to illustrate the point. "Shakespeare," Vonnegut says, "told us the truth.... The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is." 

It's corollary: We can't control circumstances, just what we think in the midst of them.

Of course, there's a fine line between belief-made and make believe. And navigating it means starting with a healthy dose of doubt and faith. The former so that we don't make fools of ourselves before the idea has been realized in act or shape, the second so that - for the very best reasons - we can.


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee