I know. Your ideas are always good. Sure, so are mine. No, not really. A professor once said to a friend of mine, “Not every idea is a good idea” in response to her earliest dissertation concept. She was hurt. But she took it to heart and refined her thinking. Her next idea was better and the third one was on the mark. The truth is that we will have many ideas in our lives, some brilliant and others not so brilliant. If we’re honest, not many will be truly brilliant or even very original. I’m sorry. That means you and me, too. So, what then? Discard it? Abandon the thought? No, write it down. Play it out with outlines and brainstorming of connections. Read about it. Think hard: What will people get from my work if I continue down this path? Is this something that I want to study but in my spare time? Is this something I want to spend the next several professional years working on? Why? What is useful about it? What is unique about it? How can I take the basic idea and turn it to something rich and special and of importance to my colleagues or society? Sure, some ideas are for mundane presentations, a rehashing of the known world to share with colleagues who may not yet know those things and who need a good introduction to them. But other ideas are for simmering in the pot, recasting, and pulling back until a kairotic or “right time.” What is your idea?


Action Steps:

  1. Honor your capacity to think and allow yourself to spend time with ideas that may have genuine value (in other words, the world needs them).
  2. Keep a notebook of your ideas. Sometimes you’ll find that they connect in interesting, unexpected, and unique ways over a period of time, enriching each part of the idea until it becomes a critical piece of thought that others should hear about.
  3. Don’t be afraid to abandon an idea forever or for a period of time. Even some good ideas aren’t worth the effort they take to birth. Others can be put aside for years. For example, I recently had an article accepted that I had begun 20 years ago. The time was right to revise the article when I found a coauthor who could speak to knowledge of a special issue that I lacked and didn’t want to learn. With her help, this good idea was reborn and will be published. It’s not too late to revive that idea that you put aside a while back.
  4. Above all, keep thinking. Keep writing. Stay open to your critics because they have useful advice to offer. But don’t abandon your own good ideas and intentions when you are sure of them and ready to make the effort to bring them to fruition.
  5. When you can, bring your idea to a writing coach who can help you examine it objectively and with an eye toward your audience and possible publication. Even people outside your field can offer thoughtful questions to help spur new thinking.