Ideas can be dazzling, mysterious, indefinable entities that can strike at any moment, and can change the world. But they only do change the world if they can be honed down into something understandable, relatable and definable – while not losing that little piece of magic that made them a great idea in the first place.
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I wrote recently quoting John Steinbeck’s wonderful thought about ideas being like rabbits: “You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
It set me off on a search to see how other great minds had sought to define ideas, while not restricting their own ideas in the process. I found another fine example from the animal kingdom, this time attributed to Plato: “Our ideas are like birds fluttering around in the aviary of our brain.” They are in there, we just have to find them and set them free – not keep them placed in a cage.
With rabbits covering land, birds covering the skies, film-maker David Lynch came up with another wonderful suggestion to cover the ocean, and encourage us all to think bigger. “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”
Finally, Carl Schurz shared an imaginative comparison setting his sights even higher – up in space. “Ideas are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.” Ideas rarely end up the same in reality as they did when you dreamed them up, but by following through on your ideas, great things can happen.
How would you define your ideas? What are they like? I’d love to hear some more examples, and will share my favourites.