Things are rarely perfect the first time.

I used to write songs with a good friend of mine.  We had a problem. If an idea wasn’t perfect, the first time we played it or sang it, he focused on how the idea wasn’t good enough to be in a song.  He couldn’t move forward. He had to discard the idea.

I think it is important look at imperfect ideas in a different way.  The trick is to see the possibility in the idea, and then make it a little better.  After many iterations, these possibilities become real, as a substantive idea starts to take shape.

I remember learning, in college, about Beethoven’s obsessive rewriting of phrases.  Over and over, note by note, he would tweak, change and edit until he got it just right. At first I thought it was just his obsessive perfectionism, but then I realized it was something more.  He could see when the possibilities in an idea had not yet been realized.

Outtakes are critical to the creative process.  “Take 22” is not necessarily a sign of failure, a lack of creativity, or poor execution.  In a strong creative process, Take 22 is 22 steps better than Take 1.  You must be willing to take what’s good about an idea and improve upon it, and take what is bad about the idea and extract it, without killing the whole idea.

Iteration is the path to idea improvement.

1 Comment

  • Jay Riley
    Aug 10, 2009 - 12:54 pm

    Agreed, Steve. In both the for-profit world and the not-for-profit world, I ask whether the non-functioning new idea is mission consistent. So first, everybody better know and believe the mission. When a new idea isn’t working, usually at the stage when we’re sitting around and dreaming, or planning the early implementation steps, we take a good look at whether it is mission consistent. Sometimes it isn’t, and that is a big part of why it won’t ever work. Do we need to change the mission? Maybe, but probably not. If it is mission consistent, and it isn’t working, roll up your sleeves and go for it!

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