Ideas, the full story


We all heard in school about the Greek scholar Archimedes and his famous exclamation. It means "I have found (it)" and stands for the sudden insight he had the moment he stepped into his bathtub. He suddenly had an idea how to solve to the king's problem of evaluating purity of an irregular golden crown.

This widely known report and lots of other artefacts, eg. the image of a switched on light bulb to symbolise an idea, led us to think, that ideas are sudden, epiphany-like insights. This "Aha-moments" are certainly part of the creative process, but it's important to know that it is only ONE part. 

The (limited) archetype icon for having an idea.

The (limited) archetype icon for having an idea.


What else is needed

As Louis Pasteur noted "In the field of observation luck only favors the prepared mind". For us, one way to interpret this quote is to equal luck with that sudden moment of insight and the prepared mind as all the work done upfront.

The creative process as described by famous psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Creativity is indeed multilayered.

  • It starts with preparation, where you get immersed in a certain problem or opportunity and learn about it (Pasteur's notion of a prepared mind).
  • Next comes a period of incubation where you let your subconscious mind do its work. It's important to let go forceful, linear problem solving if you want to increase the chances of unconventional, novel and original solutions and ideas. 
  • Equipped with a well stated problem, knowledge gathered, observations made and the magic of your subconscious mind, chances (Pasteur's notion of luck) are that you stumble upon a sudden, valuable insight. However it's important to know that this wouldn't have happened (or be way less likely) if the first two steps would have been forgone.
  • It's important to evaluate your ideas, usually also by others to decide if it's worth the effort.
  • Eventually you start with elaboration, that is you realise your idea. Admittedly, that's probably the hardest part. 

It's also important to know that those steps are iterative rather than linear. This means you might for example have further insights while executing your ideas or realise that you need better preparation or explore further domains.

The challenge

So why do we dedicate a whole post on idea finding? One of our goals with the gym is to bust myths around creativity and design. And there is this big misconception, especially in start-up world, that ideas are worth nothing, it's only execution that counts.

Here we disagree, pointing at all the steps that come before execution described above. There are so many quotes out there ranging from "ideas are cheap" to "ideas are worthless" and proposing that "execution is everything". Admittedly, it sounds cool, therefore sells very well and fits the cliché of the adventurous, successful, billionaire entrepreneur. However, this absolute approach ("execution is everything") is very limiting and, maybe even unconsciously, neglects the work needed to have a really good idea.


"If you want to have good ideas you must have many ideas." is Linus Pauling's view on it. He might be a person worth listening to, as he is the only person (so far), having won the Nobel Prize two times in two unshared categories. 

So we wonder, how many ideas does it take to not only have an OK one, but an excellent one? One worth spending your time and energy on to execute. 10? 100? 1000? More? In any case, it's a lot and denying the hard work that comes with (proper) idea finding is just half the story.

We finish up with two recommandations:

  • Practice idea generation daily. Even if it's about banal things or your ideas seem bad (chances are that they actually are bad). When it comes to ideas, quantity is the best pre-condition for quality. Scribble your thoughts in a note pad, question things and observe your surroundings more consciously. We'll describe in one of our next posts why regular training is key and how it might look like.
  • Credit also the 'uncool' bits of idea generation. We know, it is very attractive and cool when we hear the 'war stories' of idea execution (the sleepless nights, how you secured funding, your first customer, ...). It's the part that possibly takes the most energy and therefore you have all the right to be proud (and brag a little).

    However, whether you acknowledge it or not (or are aware of it or not), there were many other important things happening upfront so that you are in a position to execute your idea in the first place. You deliver half the story if you don't credit those parts, too, and add to the distortion that is so wide spread.

    In consequence, we believe this distortion might lead to weaker ideas as we don't learn to value the importance of challenge awareness, information gathering, time for reflection and proper feedback loops. And one thing is certain: for the complex challenges we face (today) we need to make sure to work with the best ideas possible.

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Stephan Kardos