Fireflies and Really Dirty Socks

Ideas can be life-changing. Sometimes all you need to open the door is just one more good idea.

Jim Rohn

Ideas are like fireflies. If you don’t catch them, they disappear into the inky darkness and are gone forever.

So many of our ideas, our thoughts, our dreams, our aspirations, come and go, arise and pass away, without ever being tried and tested; most never see the light of day.

When I learned to photograph, my mentor, the late great Galen Rowell,  said “never edit in the field.”

What he meant by that was “keep on shooting.” Don’t ever over-think a scene. Don’t evaluate it. Don’t make a judgement about it. Don’t decide in that moment that it is or isn’t worth photographing. Just shoot. Just keep shooting. Just capture the moment.  There will be plenty of time to evaluate and edit later on.

When we would come back from the field, he would have ten rolls of film for every one of mine. And when we reviewed our slides together, his percentage of “keepers” would be astounding.

He captured more. And had more to show for it.

We need to capture our ideas. All of them. And then we need to play.

This requires that we have a means to capture, and the time to play.

I carry a notebook. Everywhere. In the car, to the office, out to dinner, to the movies, running, climbing, hiking.

Yes, even to the bathroom.

Write down the crazy, the far-fetched, the brilliant, the inspired, the weird. Especially the weird.

Jim Rohn once said,

If you’re serious about becoming a wealthy, powerful, sophisticated, healthy, influential, cultured and unique individual, keep a journal. Don’t trust your memory. When you listen to something valuable, write it down. When you come across something important, write it down.

I used to take notes on pieces of paper and torn-off corners and backs of old envelopes. I wrote ideas on restaurant placemats. On long sheets, narrow sheets and little sheets and pieces of paper thrown in a drawer. Then I found out that the best way to organize those ideas is to keep a journal. I’ve been keeping these journals since the age of twenty-five. The discipline makes up a valuable part of my learning, and the journals are a valuable part of my library.

Rohn used to carry his notebook journal to church. I do too. You never know where the next idea will come from.

The evolution of the 3M Post-It note is a great example. Endeavoring to develop a strong adhesive, a 3M scientist ended up with what looked like a failure: an adhesive that stuck but then pulled off easily. Four years later, a colleague was struggling in church (yes, see!) to keep his hymns marked in the choir hymnal. He remembered the adhesive, slapped it on his markers and, today, the Post-It is one of the most popular office products available.

Of course, if you never look at your ideas, play with them, think about them, expand and experiment with them, test them, try them, see where they might go, the exercise in writing is just pedantic.

It seems as if brainstorming in business and in our creative lives has become a lost art. Maybe because we’re moving so fast, maybe because it seems that everything needs to happen now, it seems like a wasted effort.

Ideas need time. To marinate. To incubate.  And they need expansive, playful space.

If you capture them, if you nurture them, if you act, many will be keepers. Some will soar.

Allegedly, the manner in which male college students determine whether their socks (yes, and their underwear) require washing is to throw them against the wall to see if they stick.

Do you have an idea for a book, a business, a painting, a play, a movement, a mission, an empire?

Write it down. Work with it. Throw it against the wall.

Maybe it will stick.


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