The Flaming Lips-"Be My Head" (mp3)
Ideas are funny things. People tend to think that they own them, when they usually don't.
Case in point: I am spearheading two initiatives at work this week. I don't have to claim that either idea is mine because I heard both of them in a presentation at a conference. So there's no question of ownership on my part. I just thought they were a good fit for us right now, and the "powers that be" agreed, as did, apparently, the wealthy donors who oversee the powers that be.
Walked into an afternoon meeting yesterday and a co-worker screamed, "This is exactly what Ed (her husband) suggested several years ago."
"Well, I'm sure," I said. "It's a good idea." Trying to defuse just a tiny bit.
"He brought it to them back then and no one would listen," she countered.
"Well," I said, "Ed is a prophet in his own land, and you know how that goes." Luckily, from there the meeting started and the focus became how to make the initiative happen.
The other initiative I sent out by email, kind of a 'hey, we're thinking about trying this and would appreciate any feedback you might have, blah, blah, blah' thing. Many positive responses, including this one: "I appreciate your(sic) going for this. I actually mentioned it several years ago, and I was told all the reasons it was not a good idea. Please go for it. I still think it is a good idea." Gracious, supportive, and all of that, but still the underlying 'hey, that was my idea' notion.
Let me right here and right now grant everyone the genius of their individual ideas that they cornered the market on. Well done, I say! After all, it was Emerson who said, "In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." And he's more right than not. Most of us don't say "I wish I thought of that" nearly as much as we say "I thought of that years ago."
But that's where the good idea ends. What drives lives and institutions is not the good idea, but the good plan. And you don't even have to be a genius to put that into play. The fact that these initiatives are coming to fruition now is the result of a confluence between random discovery, good institutional timing, and dumb luck, along with a wealth of other things I have no control over and seeds that I didn't plant.
My point is this: if you get that pure idea that is all your own, by all means, guard it, treasure it, take it out and look at it with a flashlight under the covers at night. But for all of the other ideas besides that one, the ones that we read somewhere or half-heard from someone else or flat out stole, maybe we can just say, 'Yeah, I thought of that, too. I think I mentioned it to someone. I'm glad they're doing something about it, and I feel pretty good for having had a hand in it. I wish that it had happened earlier, but I'm glad that it's happening now.' And move on.
For Emerson also reminds us that "[t]here is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance."
"A Good Idea" is featured on an excellent Sugar CD, Copper Blue. "Be My Head" comes from an early Flaming Lips CD, Transmissions From the Satellite Heart. Both at Itunes.