The problem with the first idea

December 24, 2016

The first idea is just that – first idea. Almost a gut reaction to the problem. Yet we often treat it as a final one. We stick to that one – first thought – give it a lot of love, refine it, nurture it and defend it. Until it proves to be wrong. And we get frustrated.

Don’t give your first idea any love. Think of it as just one option rather than a complete idea. If you treat it like one possibility you will be inclined to find other possibilities. Alternative ideas. Many of them. An opposite of your first idea, for instance. Frame it in a different perspective and explore it in a different context. Try a bizarre version of it. If an idea hasn’t been taken to unusual places, it hasn’t been explored enough. One question can have many answers, so go broad and go wild and go beyond obvious. Restrain from judgment, just keep going.

A time for judgment will come later, when you will need to converge from many alternative ideas to the strongest one. But to get to that strongest one you will first need many ideas to compare, build upon and combine. You first need to create choices in order to be able to make the right one.

We have a natural tendency to convergent thinking, especially in groups. We’re more exposed to it in our lives. Unlike divergent thinking which is messy and ambiguous, convergent thinking is logical and accurate. The greatest ideas come out of a messy process in which you bounce between divergent and convergent thinking along the way to the final idea. Ultimately, that’s what differentiates brilliant from mediocre.

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