Invention – Analyzing Ideas

Everyone has ideas, and everyone is convinced their ideas are good. But what are ideas? Why do we believe ideas are special? How do ideas fit into invention?

You’ve probably seen people who have ideas. You can tell the idea is dumb and it will fail, but they are convinced it will succeed. Even after they try it and fail, they don’t change their minds. How do you know your ideas are good? Are you stuck with a dumb idea and can’t realize that?

To understand ideas, first realize that ideas and goals are completely separate. You can have a random idea unrelated to any goal. You could have an idea about a new kind of instrument, even if you aren’t a musician. Sometimes they just spring to mind. If you analyze your ideas, you will realize they are patterns. Each idea is a pattern that, hopefully, solves a problem. An idea is simply a method.

Ideas have parallels to something far better understood, and that is opinions. This provides insight into why we hold onto ideas, even if they are bad. An opinion, when first developed, forms as the conclusion to available information. You view information, spot a common pattern and identify that. (Or ideas can be copied from other people.) Once the opinion forms it remains firm, even in the face of opposing information. This falls under cognitive bias, specifically confirmation bias. Cognitive bias is an interesting topic to study and it may help dislodge the firmness of opinions. Opinions lead to a great deal of social strife. People with opposing opinions can get into unresolvable arguments. The key to breaking out of it is to return to the notion of conclusions. Let go of the firmness of opinions and revert to conclusion stage. If someone has an opposing opinion, rather than argue with them ask for their source material. Since you have differing opinions (conclusions), sharing your source information can help both parties grow.

Switching from opinions to conclusions will solve almost all arguments. Use a similar approach to ideas. Ideas are methods that help achieve a goal. Rather than focus on the idea, focus on the goal. So to have good ideas, you first start off with good goals.

What makes a good goal? A good goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, incremental, flexible and meaningful. When you want to invent, start off with a goal and ensure it has those seven attributes.

A good goal must be specific. If your goal is to compose a song, that goal is general, which is poor. If the goal is to compose a song that expresses the joy of a young child learning, then that’s specific. General goals are rarely achieved while specific goals are far more achievable. Specific goals focus you and prevent scope creep. If you have a general goal then start by making it specific.

A good goal must be measurable. There must be some way to quantify your progress and achievement. If a goal is not measurable then it may as well not exist. Governments are great at coming up with goals that can’t be measured. Unfortunately, this is not a complement. For example, your goal could be to make a remote controlled toy car reach the highest speed possible. This is a measurable goal. With each attempt, you can measure the result and use that to determine your success. You can create a target speed to mark the end of your goal.

A good goal must be achievable. A child trying to fly by flapping his arms is not an achievable goal. If faced with a goal that may or may not be achievable, the first step is to determine if it can be achieved. Sometimes a goal will be to determine if something can be achieved. If you have an idea for this goal, the elements of the idea need to be tested. Not all ideas can be achieved and those that don’t should be abandoned for others. If you want skill to grow then the goal should be achievable but just beyond your current ability to do.

A good goal must be relevant. Often times a goal aligns with larger goals. This ties in with goals being incremental. Divide one goal into a series of smaller goals then achieve each one. When achieving the smaller goals, ensure they remain relevant to the larger goal. Even when considering the end goal, does it fit with your values and life goals? The goal of writing a song will fit if your life goal is to become a composer, but it doesn’t fit if your goal is to become an engineer.

A good goal is meaningful. You should be compelled to complete it. Without this emotional impulse, completing a goal can be difficult. Stack the deck in your favor. Do things that you find meaningful and worth doing. When you complete a goal, you will feel far more fulfilled.

Finally a good goal is flexible. This doesn’t mean flexible in terms of what you achieve, but flexible in terms of the method used to achieve it. Keep the end point firm. Only change it if you find the end goal unachievable.

A goal defines the end point, the point where you need to get. Ideas are the paving stones that get you there. You’ll need far more than a single idea to reach the goal and they must connect and work together. You’ll also have to throw away old ideas if they don’t work. This is normal but difficult when you start inventing. It’s a skill that must be learned. When inventing, you’ll have plenty of ideas. You’ll attempt them and most of them will fail. As you learn more, you learn the ideas that work and why they work. You’ll also learn why the other ideas failed. Failure is as important as success in developing skill, because you need to understand what works and doesn’t work to grow. As you fail and succeed, it teaches you skill. When skill rises, more ideas related to that skill end up working. So the more you invent, the more effective you become at inventing.

Approach ideas with this mindset and you increase your odds of success.

Together our conversations can expand solutions and value

We look forward to helping you bring your ideas and solutions to life.
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