April 21, 2023

Do you have a better idea? Do you even have any ideas?


Once after doing a demo of a new project at an all company meeting, one of my coworkers sent me a private message.

Scott, we were bracing ourselves for something insane today, but this is actually really good. Nice job!

First of all, let me just say that having an expectation of insanity around my work is wonderful compliment. That’s exactly the kind of positive tension innovation should generate around itself. Surprise creates anxiety in the air, and that’s the perfect time to give people new ideas. That’s how you open the door to a whole new world of vibrant possibilities.

And that alone is a creative victory, regardless of what kind of results the idea produces.

Secondly, it’s always better to be known as the person on the team who does work on the edge, rather than the one who watches from a distance and criticizes it.

Sorry, but if you only have the power to stop things, not create them, then you have no currency in this game. I’ve launched hundreds of projects in my career, both with teams and independently. Some were moderate successes, others were abject failures, while many never even saw the light of day.

But the one obstacle that’s always greeted me along the way is unsolicited critical feedback from people who have executed nothing of their own. They instantly put my ideas down, tell me why they won’t work in the marketplace and explain why they’re in bad taste.

It infuriates me. I come from a lineage of fundamentally optimistic encouraging and affirmative people, and that is not how we treat each other. My family taught me long ago to elevate all attempts at originality, however daring.

We do not reflexively condemn creative expression so it becomes dead on arrival. Ideas deserve oxygen so they can find their center of gravity.

And so, in the middle of a meeting when people start picking apart my ideas like buzzards swarming over the meat of a carcass, here are the two questions that lower my blood pressure.

  1. Do you have a better idea?
  2. Do you even have any ideas?

Of course not. They didn’t think of anything original, they just piggybacked onto my idea, rode it into the ground and called themselves strong.

Bezos, upon retiring from his chief executive post a the most successful company in history, wrote an inspiring letter to his one million employees:

Keep inventing, and don’t despair when at first the idea looks crazy. We’ve done crazy things together, and then made them normal. If you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.

How many creative risks have you taken this week? How often are your coworkers and clients bracing themselves something insane?

If you’re looking for a natural high with zero hangover, then you’ve come to the right place. Inventing is the most human thing you can do. At the heart of what it means to be a person is the act of dreaming, doing and finishing.

It doesn’t even matter what you invent or how well the damn thing is received. That’s all icing on the cake.

The process of producing positive tension in the service of discovery is where you check that box of fulfillment. Nobody can take that away from you.

They might call you crazy, but then again, they didn’t think of it.

How will you respond to unsolicited critical feedback from those who have executed nothing of their own?