Brilliant Ideas

“The difficulties lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”

John Maynard Keyes, British Economist

“I’ve got a brilliant idea,” I declared.

The year was 1978, and I had just begun my new and exciting career as an advertising copywriter. Ben, the broadcast engineer where I worked, looked up from his reading. He always perched his reading glasses low on his nose and looked – to me – like an old schoolteacher. The rumpled, over-sized sweater he wore seemed in keeping with his rumpled, over-sized body.

“We don’t let them have ideas,” said Ben. “Why would we let them have guns?”

The quote by Stalin was lost on me. Ben liked quotes. I think speaking them made him feel wise and worldly. To be honest, I was looking to share my brilliant idea with someone whom I considered wise and worldly. Ben was a genuine broadcast engineer with a university degree to prove it. Not just a technician or repairman as he would often say. He had spent years designing, building (and later) maintaining broadcast equipment for some of the biggest companies in North America. Nearing retirement, he now worked for our small chain of radio stations.

Ben sighed, took off his glasses and leaned back in his chair.

“You know when I write a script how I have to phone the client and read it?”

Ben nodded and then motioned (with impatience) for me to continue.

“What if there was a way to combine a telephone with a photocopier?”

“What?” Ben’s brow furrowed, and he leaned forward. “Why?”

“Imagine if I could write a script and then put it on the photocopier –”

“And through some magic have it pop out of our client’s photocopier,” he interrupted.

“Exactly,” I replied. “The client would get a, a facsimile of my script.”

“It is well for the heart to be naïve and the mind not to be.”

The Anatole France quote was also lost on me. With great condescension, Ben explained why the idea (though novel) was not workable. He rambled on about the cost of developing ideas into workable ventures, the infinitesimally small number of ideas that move from inception to fruition. After about five minutes, I excused myself and thanked him for his time.

Have you ever shared an idea with people and had them dismiss it or worse yet, stomp on your idea and heart with cruel and unsupportive words? I think we all have and here’s one reason why: we may have innocently and inadvertently shared our idea with a naysayer.

You’ll find naysayers everywhere – at work, at home, in your immediate family. You’re not-so-friendly neighbourhood naysayer could be a boss, colleague, friend, parent, life partner, neighbour, in-laws – anyone, in fact. Regardless of how you encounter them, naysayers all share the same toxic tendency, and that is to dash your dream and douse your ambitions.

Of course, not all people who have dissed an idea are naysayers. Most people are well-intentioned and genuine when it comes to offering advice and critique. And sometimes we need to hear the cold and hard facts so that we can make well-informed and considered choices. These same people are likely to compliment and commend you when an idea has merit. Even if they don’t agree, they’re still liable to support and encourage you in the pursuit of your dream.

Want to know if you’re dealing with a naysayer? When you ask for advice, do you walk away feeling intrigued and empowered, quietly optimistic and better informed, or do you feel disempowered, invalidated and foolish? A naysayer will always “slam” your brilliant ideas.

Common comments from naysayers might include “I don’t think that’s very practical,” “I don’t think you have the skillset,” “You can’t make a living doing that,” or “It might be time to grow up.”

Most often, naysayers express their views from a place of fear. Often their brilliant ideas have gone unfulfilled. Though they may appear confident, wise and worldly, naysayers do not have good self-esteem. Their feelings of insecurities and inadequacy make it difficult for them to express anything positive. Your dreams and aspirations may threaten the naysayer, reinforcing a sense of failure.

People with healthy self-esteem are never threatened by the success of others. They applaud and encourage it – using it as motivation for the pursuit of their own brilliant ideas. Fear keeps the naysayer small and predictable. If you want your life to be small and predictable, heed the words of the naysayer. It’s a great way to become one.

If the naysayer is someone you admire or care deeply about, you’ll want to set some firm boundaries. It’s your life and journey and, ultimately, it’s your happiness that’s on the line. Make it clear that you won’t be swayed from the pursuit of your dreams. If you find yourself in a relationship with a naysayer, it may be necessary to re-evaluate the relationship. As best you can, surround yourself with people who encourage and support you in a positive, open and honest manner. By that, I mean people whom you trust to be respectfully frank with you.  

Less than ten years later, I was standing before the company facsimile machine sending a script to a client for review. It seemed that nearly every business in the city had embraced the new and innovative technology. A novel and highly workable idea (no doubt) presented and pursued by someone who was not discouraged by a wise and worldly naysayer.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions,” wrote Mark Twain, American writer and humourist. “Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

I think brilliant ideas are universal. The moment you perceive one, hundreds if not thousands of other people are having the same flashes of brilliance. The question is “Will you act upon it?”

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