Have you ever read an article or blog post that feels like it was written just for you? Hugh McLeod, he of ‘cartoons drawn on the back of business cards’ fame (like the one above) wrote a post just like that a few days ago. Entitled Good Ideas Have Lonely Childhoods, I urge you to go and read it in its entirety.
For obvious reasons, I’m not going to go into detail, but I’ve had to deal with two or three frustrating workplace situations recently. In one I lost my cool a bit as my interlocutor just didn’t seem to get it. Hugh’s post made me a bit more philosophical about it. He makes six very good points in his post, but the two that stand out for me are:
1. Good ideas have lonely childhoods
Given 20:20 hindsight, anyone can wise. There’s a quotation I put up on the walls of the History department at my school that reads, “A historian is a prophet in reverse”. It’s easy being the historian; what takes talent and effort is being the prophet.
Ideas have gestation periods. There’s a time and a place for them to be ‘born’, a time for them to be ‘nurtured’ and a time for them to reach maturity. Think of the green movement, for example. 20 years ago they were considered part of the lunatic fringe. Now, such ideas are mainstream and seen to be ‘the future’.
So we should expect some banging of heads against walls from time-to-time in frustration. Especially in schools – those most conservative of institutions.
2. Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted
I’ve seen this on a cartoon by Hugh McLeod before, and it makes me smile. For someone to take on and accept other people’s ideas they must themselves be confident and secure in their own position. It’s obvious when this is not the case. Things become increasingly centralised and bureaucratic. It’s interesting that Google, for example, one of the world’s largest and most successful companies, has 20% time. This is, as you would imagine, one-fifth of an employee’s time which can be spent on projects they are especially interested and motivated to see succeed. The key is that these people are being trusted to have, organise and carry through ideas. That’s how successful innovation occurs.
So, as Jenny Luca stated towards the end of her response to Hugh’s post, I’m going to keep plugging away. In fact, I liked her metaphor so much I’m going to finish with it:
I feel like I’m in the playground, sitting in the sandpit pretty much alone right now in terms of my thinking. Friends will come, they always do, they’re just hanging around the fringes of the sandpit. I need to draw a few more lines in the sand to attract a crowd. I’ll keep at it.
Thanks Hugh and Jenny!
(also love this discussion about whether that means that, conversely, lonely children have good ideas…)