Good Ideas Are Between the Cracks

Photo of Tim Horan staring at cracks in the concrete sidewalk.
I find all my ideas in the cracks between relentless work and my smartphone.

Machines do not come up with ideas. They can filter massive amounts of data to identify patterns but that is not the same as imagination. The creative spark that gives birth to ideas resides within the organic.

Unfortunately, our culture has decided to fetishize the machine and not people. We have created a mental environment that favors machines and therefore stifles new ideas.

The ultimate expression of the machine is software. Lines of code and algorithms run the platforms we use to connect with each other via our smartphones and laptops. Those platforms are synthetic and omnipresent like the concrete sidewalks of our cities.

Concrete is strong, cohesive, and it is good to walk on. It is one great, big, gray, solid mass. It is all the same. It is the status quo.

If we are always staring at a screen, we will not find new ideas. To be more accurate — those ideas will not find us.

When I must come up with ideas, I get up from my laptop computer. I also put my smartphone in my desk drawer, and I go for a walk. As I walk, I gaze down at the concrete sidewalk and see little cracks in the hard surface. Through those cracks, poking their green heads through the concrete, are tiny weeds. Little, green shoots.

Weeds, despite what we have been told, are not a blight. If there are weeds, it is nature’s way of trying to repair dead soil. The soil that has been concreted over suppresses the weeds. That is the same with our digital environment today. If we are always staring at a screen, we will not find new ideas. To be more accurate — those ideas will not find us.

But those ideas are there. They try to push through the concrete. If you want to come up with new ideas, I recommend you remove yourself from the constant chatter of email, Slack, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I question whether an original idea could occur in a Zoom meeting.

Now we have a new electronic distraction — Zoom meetings. There is a belief that people can come up with good ideas in a meeting. I never believed that myself, but at least before the age of Zoom when you sat around a table with people and interacted with them face to face, there probably was more chance of discovering an idea. I question whether an original idea could occur in a Zoom meeting.

If you do not want to go for a walk, simply relocate to another room with no device. Take a pencil and a notepad to sketch ideas down. If you cannot present your idea as a rough thumbnail sketch on a piece of paper, the idea is probably not good. A good idea has power in its crudest form. Only open Photoshop, Illustrator, or Word, after the idea reveals itself in your notepad or, if you are fortunate, comes to you in a flash of insight.

There is a great paradox here. When people connect via social media, they want novelty. An experience they have not experienced before, but over time, social platforms lead to a sense of sameness. Most posts look like all the other posts.

If you cannot present your idea as a rough thumbnail sketch on a piece of paper, the idea is probably not good.

A post that does not look like anything else will stop your thumb scrolling. The only hope for your message to stand out is if you first step away from your devices to create it with your pencil and notepad. When you come back to your platform of choice to communicate with your audience, there is an excellent chance the idea you bring will be fresh because it has not been influenced by all the content the social media algorithm has filtered for you.

Create an environment for yourself where the spark of creativity can push through the concrete of sameness. Just like those little weeds that push up through the cracks in the pavement.

The world belongs to weeds, not concrete.

About the Author

Tim Horan is a writer and editor from Sydney, Australia. Start a conversation with him here, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. His website is timhoran.com

Writer and Photographer. I talk about work, play, and everything in between.