Building a Flying Machine

I have a confession to make. I’m an addict.

Well, okay. That might be a bit dramatic, since my vice isn’t exactly one that you’d typically deem problematic. But the point still stands that I have this … thing for ideas.

You may have guessed that already. After all, my about page does say that “I am wont to [have] my interest drift around from thing to thing, idea to idea and place to place.”

But here’s the thing. I really love coming up with ideas — solutions to problems, new ways of doing things, creative brainstorming, ways of explaining, etc. The problem (if you want to call it a problem) is that my interest drops dramatically after the initial idea moment.

The Lifespan of My Ideas

Let me give you a diagram that demonstrates the normal flow of how my interest levels progress whenever I have an idea …


The Lifespan of My Ideas

The Lifespan of My Ideas

In the diagram above, you’ll notice that I’ve labeled the phases I go through whenever I have an idea, and I’ve also highlighted three “bailout opportunities”. These “bailout opportunities” are points in the lifespan of my idea that I typically leave it behind, either because I’m bored with it, or because I’ve finished the course of my thought processes.

Bailouts are distinct from crash and burn, by the way. Crash and burn happens when I stick with an idea that I really should have bailed on — usually this occurs when I believe (or am told) that I have to finish something. Really big research projects in school tended to get me to this point, for example.

But let’s focus on the positives from the diagram for a moment, shall we?

As you can see, what excites me about ideas is the ideas themselves. My interest and excitement levels spike way up when I’m in the process of developing the ideas, fleshing them out, and figuring out ways that they could work. I’m not as big on the implementation — my brain seems to have an auto-shut-off as soon as I have clarity of vision, and I lose interest rapidly after that point.

Being Done Is Up To You

Some of you are probably nodding your heads at this point — it sounds familiar, right? Others cannot conceive of getting so far into the details of an idea and then not wanting to see it carried out to completion. And still others are probably sitting there thinking “you’re just lazy; you don’t want to do the work, so you just quit when it gets tough!”

Sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree with the last one. I don’t have a problem doing something that needs to be done (this is how I finished my honors thesis, for example).

And I don’t really find it all that difficult to do the actual implementation — I’m actually notoriously quick at picking things up, and can often do things in a fraction of the time it would take others.

The more I read and research, the more I realize that some people are wired differently — they (we!) have a different “completion” point than what someone else might consider done.

For us, the problem is solved when we understand it, or when we see the pattern, or when we’ve applied it to one situation, or something like that. We may not have actually built the system, but we know we could if we had to.

This type of approach is a hallmark of what Barbara Sher calls the “scanner” personality, and what Margaret Lobenstein calls the “renaissance soul”.

It’s a description of all of us who are pulled in a million different directions by a million different ideas and interests.

And there isn’t anything wrong with it!

Embracing an Earlier End-Point

Consider Leonardo da Vinci, the classic example of a renaissance man. He was a painter, yes, but he was also a scientist, philosopher, inventor, observer and more. In a lot of ways, da Vinci was an idea-man. He was endlessly curious and was endlessly investigating new directions and ideas.

Here’s one thing about da Vinci that we don’t often consider, though. Da Vinci didn’t finish everything he started — at least, not by modern standards! He may have sketched and planned the first flying machine, but he never attempted to start a flying-machine-business. In fact, he never even built one.

We may know him best for his paintings, but he actually was more into drawing — he kept whole books filled with sketches and drawings of anything that caught his eye. Some of those sketches were finished. Many weren’t.

Was da Vinci a quitter because he didn’t monetize his flying machine, or a failure because most of his sketches just sat in his notebooks where few would ever see them?

Not many people would think so; instead, we recognize da Vinci as being multitalented — he was remarkable not because he finished things to others’ standards of completion, but because he pursued his many interests to his own measure.

Wasting Away

One of the solutions proposed by Sher in Refuse to Choose is for scanners to create a “Scanner Daybook”. It’s a tool by which you can let your imagination and brain cells run wild with whatever fascinates you in the moment. No one ever has to see it, unless you want them to. You can write or doodle or do whatever you want, and help fulfill your minds wanderlust that way.

The part about not sharing your daybook makes intuitive sense to me. After all, if you want to really explore your ideas and not feel pressure to make them conform to someone else’s standards, then privacy is a good way to go. But part of me has always had the nagging thought — isn’t it a shame to let these ideas just sit in a notebook?

I don’t claim to be a da Vinci; far from it. I have very little expectation that if I keep notebooks full of musings and random ideas that a couple of hundred years after my death, people will clamor to see them.

So what do you (and I) do with all of these ideas?  If no one ever has a chance to act on them (because I sure don’t want to!), what good is it? Isn’t it a shame to let them go to waste?

For me, I think in many ways it is. Just because I don’t have a desire to implement all my ideas doesn’t make them bad. In my own humble opinion, I tend to think that on occasion, I do have one or two good ones that might be useful to someone, somewhere. Somewhere in those ideas, there might be some value I can provide.

Introducing the Idea Factory

Last night, as I lay awake unable to sleep, a thought occurred to me (yes, I had an idea — I see the irony). 

The answer, it turns out, is simple. Rather than hoarding all of my ideas, once I’m done with them, why not share them?

If I don’t plan on developing my ideas further, then why not put them out there, in case someone does want to build on them? Call it paying it forward, calling it creating and delivering value, or just call it sharing, it seems to make sense.

For that matter, even if I do eventually come back to some of my ideas, it doesn’t matter. I can still build upon my previous thoughts and develop them if I really want to.

Nothing stops me from revisiting old ideas, even if others have picked up on them. In fact, by sharing and discussing my ideas, it may rejuvenate my interest as well as providing a really cool idea-stimulus for the “implementers” in the crowd.

So with that in mind, look for Sententia to get a new sub-section in the near future: The Idea Factory. I don’t know what shape it will take, or how exactly it will look and work. I do have some leanings — it will remain integrated into the main site, for example — but not everything has settled in my mind yet. 

The plus side is that with the way the site is currently set up, the implementation of whatever I decide will be so simple, that bailout shouldn’t be needed, and crash-and-burn won’t be a result :-)

Now, I’m not talking about sharing all of the ridiculous ideas (although I suppose that could be amusing — and trust me, there are some ridiculous ones), and I make no promises that anything that goes into the Idea Factory will be even half-baked.

But maybe, like the gems in da Vinci’s notebook, someone somewhere will find use for a crazy sketch of a new flying machine.

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