Ideas (and Inherent Value)

Over the last few months, I’ve had a lot of time to think about a range of things in my life. A large number of these thoughts have centered around the passage of time: what I’ve let go of from the past, where I am in the present, and what I’d like to be doing in the future. In the middle somewhere, I got very frustrated with myself because I kept looking to a benchmark I created and manufactured for myself in the future, without focusing much on where I am and what I want to be doing in the present. The purpose of these thoughts felt very useless. I didn’t fully recognize why I was thinking about them and where they were coming from, or what role they were playing.

I’ll illustrate this. I enjoy writing. I’d always think about – and get all these incredible ideas about what I could be writing next. Things I want to read and research about – thoughts I hadn’t seen expressed on any other medium I had read. Things that I would look forward to reading about and creating a piece about. Then I’d think about them more: crystallize plans for how I’m going to go about writing these pieces, what source material I’d pick up. Ultimately, I’d procrastinate. Most of these ideas were time-sensitive, they were highly relevant in the context of an event taking place at the time. So although I’d get around to all the reading I wanted to do, I’d never actually get around to the writing. Why? Because I felt it wasn’t as relevant anymore. This put my thinking and my ideating at a precarious position for me. It placed all of my thinking right in the middle of thought and action. See: the reading is always an excellent takeaway, but the writing would have been even better.

So I’ve been thinking about why these ideas, especially the unfinished ones, those unclaimed ones that lie in the back of your brain, matter. Since January, I’ve progressed to using OneNote over Google Keep to keep track of things in life. Not because I want to get hyper-organized, but more for this one experiment. Mentally, I decided that I would write down every grand idea I had. I’d jot them down and categorize them. I’d spent all of the thinking time writing. Even all these thoughts I had about reading plans – I’d type them out as I was thinking them.

This has led to a lot of random notes, including one that says “Read a book” under a heading that says “Cars”. I do not remember the idea I had anymore, nor do I have context apart from a time-stamp. For the most part though, the notes are reasonably contextualized. They’re almost a transcription of that little voice in my brain that talks to me for most of the day, so they’re reasonably accurate in depicting my thoughts at any given point of time.

What I’ve measured out is that for every 10 ideas or notes I write down, I execute 1 of them. The ones I execute are often the ones I execute immediately after ideating them and writing them down, ones that energize me enough not to procrastinate that idea. So, jumping straight into things helps me.

So, what’s the value of those other 9?

I’ve read back all these notes I’ve taken, and I see so much processing happening. For me, ideas stem out of sensory cues for the most part. Most of my ideas come from things I read, with some of them coming from things I hear. I think the value of these ideas I have just lies in the fact that it means I’m processing some of what I’m hearing and seeing. Then there’s the other aspect of things. I find that several of these ideas are interconnected, so there’s a lot of synthesis taking place – and a lot of connection of random pieces of information I would have spotted on two ends of the internet.

Of course, the value of having 10 ideas is that maybe 1 translates into action.

All of this thinking ended up with more thinking. Should ideas have value at all? Can’t they just be that: ideas, without anything attached to them, normatively?

The definition of an idea, as a noun is: a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.

Reading that definition pretty much answered that question for me.

It’s definitely possible. The value of an idea doesn’t rest in its conclusion, or on the action you take at the culmination of ideating. It’s in the ideating itself, and the application of mind that goes into thinking or suggesting, or figuring out a possible course of action for anything.

Which means I could have avoided writing all my thoughts down for a whole month if I had read that definition first.

Let me know what you think!

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