Have you ever had an original idea or theory that you know is good–but you keep it to yourself? Maybe you sense that the people around you don’t want to hear about it or think they wouldn’t understand. Maybe you’re worried someone might take credit for it or even steal it and use it for their own profit, so you keep it to yourself. Maybe a little part of you is afraid that people will try to talk you out of it or point out a major flaw.
I get it. Carrying around a good idea can be comforting and hopeful. It can feel exhilarating to know that you have this great solution in your back pocket that you can pull out when the right opportunity comes along.
But consider what could happen if you wait for that perfect moment: It comes. You have a potential spotlight. You are at a meeting or conference or networking event with influential people who can fund or support your idea. The perfect opening comes up and all eyes are on you.
You begin talking. If you’re like me, it is unlikely that you will take full advantage of the opportunity. Maybe the language you use will fail to capture the magic of your idea. Maybe you will get into too much detail about aspects that are not important. You finish knowing that your audience probably doesn’t understand the key point you wanted to convey, maybe even has the wrong idea of what you are presenting. If they ask questions, you may not be prepared to answer clearly. Your time is up. You know that if you start trying to correct their errors they will lose interest.
With your think pond, you can present your idea early and see how different people react. You can role play and practice so that when your time to shine arrives, you will confidently state your idea in language that hits the right notes. You have already answered many of the potential questions that will arise and maybe even defended your idea powerfully.
Moreover, you know there are people–somewhere out there–who believe.
“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”
I am intrigued by the fact that Albert Einstein attributed his groundbreaking scientific theories to both mathematics and imagination, that he played his violin every day, and that he once said “I often think in music.”
I wonder: Did Einstein’s love of music and his interest in so many divergent streams of 20th century life play a role in his amazing ability to perform thought experiments about the mysteries of time, space, light, and energy?
We’ll never know. But few would discount the value of imagination and intuition in Einstein’s work. And shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility that his genius was somehow interwoven with his music?
What role do imagination and creativity play in your chosen profession and in your current industry, organization, and job? In your other roles (citizen, parent, partner, single person, homeowner, gardener, cook, athlete, whatever)?
What are some specific creative challenges you face currently?
What would you like to make?
What are some areas within your industry or profession where innovation most needs to happen?
What types of solutions would transform your industry or profession?
Whether your career and adult life are on the verge of lift-off, going full throttle, or floating in that space of pre-retirement satisfaction, nostalgia, and regret, you need to think about this essential question:
How can I respond to this present time of rapid technological change, social upheaval, and economic uncertainty in a way that will fulfill my vision for the future?
That is the ultimate example of what I call “solution-seeking.” Here are some practices to try:
Choose multiple paths. You seldom need to settle for either/or. Sometimes you can choose one project, career, or lifestyle and still have the best of the option you didn’t pursue. The harder the choice was to make, the better it is to try this.
Take thoughtful detours and side trips whenever you can. Don’t neglect true talents because they don’t pay your bills. Assert your right to try something different. Dabble unapologetically.
Be both an intern and a mentor. Everyone always has the potential to be an intern at one thing and a mentor at another. Everyone could benefit from having and being both. Any group of three or more people can find a project on which to collaborate.
Pretend honestly. The world of make-believe can be your friend, as long as everyone affected agrees to play.
Look across conventional boundaries for knowledge, ideas, tools, and collaborators. Anyone willing to think and work can contribute to any project even if it’s only in a small way. Outsiders and amateur can make invaluable contributions. Teams can be fluid. You can energize solution seeking by linking your challenge to someone else’s.
Embrace slowness if necessary. It’s better to take a long time to get there than it is to wait until the right time or give up. Always be conscious of the process, but be very thoughtful about imposing deadlines, outlines, timelines, and needless constraints. Put your dream at the radius of everything you do rather than on its own linear path.
Not all of these approaches require you to work with others, but most will steer you toward collaborative relationships. Those relationships could be the beginning of your Think Pond.