Ideas, like the air we breathe, are omnipresent. And they are to the mind what light is to the eyes. Everywhere you go and every act you do provides opportunities for useful ideas. Every time you turn on the radio or TV, flip through the pages of your favorite newspaper, magazine or book, ideas are there, waiting to be picked. The moments spent waiting in the doctor or dentist's office and the time spent commuting or computing can be opportunities to garner new ideas. At the same time you’re cooking dinner, you can also be cooking up fresh ideas. The point is to be aware of the ever-present opportunities.
Great ideas inspire, instruct, guide, and lead us. They are treasures that enrich our lives. They provide different viewpoints, a basis of comparison, and clarity of vision. “A pile of rocks ceases to be rocks when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.” (Antoine De Saint-Exupery, 1900 ~ 1944) Ideas are storehouses of power. Witness the freedom fighters or terrorists that willingly give their lives for an idea. Our minds expand in direct proportion to the number and size of the ideas we embrace. The ultimate idea is the cosmos we live in, which is a reflection of the grandeur of the mind that created it.
The Founder of USA Today, Al Neuharth, said, “Never hesitate to steal a good idea.” But don’t steal it. Rather, embrace it. Mull it over. Pick it apart and make it your own. That’s precisely what every great thinker does. No one originates ideas, but merely refines and reshapes the ideas of others. All ideas are a collaborate effort. So, they are meant to be shared. Yet, when expressing our ideas, we usually do not transfer them to others as much as awaken those already lying dormant in their minds. This is enough of an introduction to the world of ideas and their value. Now, let’s consider how to increase the harvest of our own ideas, thereby further improving our lives.
1. Realize that the midwives of good ideas are looking, listening, searching, questioning, and pondering. Always be on the alert for hidden treasure. Remain curious. There must be another way, a better way, or an easier way. Look for it and find it.
2. Fortunately, Samuel Goldwyn did not ignore every monumental idea he had. Likewise, don’t ignore yours. On the contrary, always be prepared to record them. Keep an idea notebook handy. Like butterflies, ideas don’t remain where they settle very long. They are fleeting. Capture them while the opportunity is there. And since they may appear at the most unexpected times, always be ready.
3. No matter how grand or noble our ideas are, they are pointless unless acted upon. The difference between a pile of rocks and a cathedral is the action we take to bring our idea to life. Some people have ideas; others put them to work. Ideas won't work unless we do. The value of action can not be stressed too greatly. For sometimes it is action that generates the idea. For example, if I am smashing rocks, rather than sleeping under a tree, the thought may occur to me that the rocks could be used to build a cathedral.
4. Both Thomas A. Edison (1847 ~ 1931) and two time winner of The Nobel Peace Prize, Linus Pauling (1901 ~ 1994) agree that the best way to arrive at a brilliant idea is to have many. For the more ideas we generate, the greater our likelihood of coming up with a great one.
5. There are at least three levels of ideas: common ones, valuable insight, and breathtaking revelation. Pondering the first leads to the last. That is, don’t merely have an idea, but scrutinize it; tear it apart. Question it. Challenge it. It has to be grappled before it can be assimilated. The more you investigate it, the deeper you probe, the greater your chances of striking gold. The Russian mystic Madame Swetchine (1782 ~ 1857) put it this way, “To have ideas is to gather flowers; to think, is to weave them into garlands.”
6. Others won’t accept your ideas until they accept you. But don’t be guilty of making the same mistake. A diamond caked in mud is still a diamond. Never judge another. Anyone can share pearls of wisdom. Don’t let prejudices prevent you from benefiting by them. Always remain open to the ideas of others, and remember that bright ideas often camouflage themselves as stupid ones.
7. Not every idea is worthwhile. The value of an idea is measured by the consequences it produces when acted upon. Cherish ideas that improve your life and scrap those that hinder it. Be open-minded, but not gullible. Beware of those who use the power of ideas to confuse, twist, and control the minds of others. It is important to realize that there are bad ideas as well as good ideas. Until we accept this fact, it will be difficult to distinguish between the two. We will become as immense or small as our ideas, so choose them carefully.
8. Learn how to break rules. Rules are helpful guides, but their restrictiveness can leave us in a rut. Challenge the validity of rules.
9. Be like children: learn to substitute what is needed for what is available. If a toy car is unavailable, the imagination of a child will allow a spool of thread to take its place. Try to discover how to get what you lack but wish to have. But when it is impossible to have what you want, find a replacement.
10. Learn how to combine the ideas of others with your own. What part of their idea is helpful for you to copy or adapt?
11. Don’t be like people who treat new ideas like mosquitoes by brushing them aside or squeezing the life out of them. True, we become set in our ways and sheer force of habit makes change difficult. But growth is impossible without change, so don’t resist it. Leaders are those who deliberately look for new ideas and adapt to them. Whether you are a leader or not is not dependent upon a title given to you, but upon the actions you take. Act like a leader and you will be one.
12. Don’t let the criticism, frowns, and doubts of others squelch your ideas. Every new idea is first met with scorn. If you have a good idea and remain persistent, eventually it will be adopted by all.
13. Treasure new ideas, for once we gain new insight, we never see the world the same way. To expand your horizon and elevate your consciousness, all you have to do is be receptive. Reach out and embrace the ideas that surround you and are ignored by others.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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