the opinions and musings behind the expertise
Don’t Name Your Goldfish — How to Cope with the Loss of your Great Idea
Posted: May 9, 2013
I have never claimed to be a wise man, quite the contrary, in fact. Almost every lesson I’ve ever learned in my life I’ve had to learn the hard way - sometimes twice. But if there is one pearl of wisdom I can share with confidence it is this… don’t name your goldfish. What does that mean? Well, allow me to paint you a little scenario and see if something like this has ever happened to you.
Picture yourself having the best idea, so brilliant in your own mind that you can’t wait to share it. But first it must be absolutely perfect. You push everything aside and work to the exclusion of all else on your brilliant gem of a concept. You don’t even entertain the notion of any other idea because what you have in the palm of your hand is nothing short of perfection itself! You are giddy with the anticipation of the big reveal and the accolades and kudos to follow.
Now the time has come! The grand unveiling! And then … crickets.
You are greeted with a tepid response bordering on apathy, or worse - rejected out of hand! You don’t hear any feedback because you are too dismayed. Worse still you don’t have anything else to show. All your time and effort lies shattered at your feet and there is nothing left to do except make it worse.
Now you are squarely in the five stages of loss. You deny their refusal, because if they truly understood what you had created, they’d come around to your point of view. You become angry that no one shares your vision as passionately as you. They obviously just don’t get it. You try to bargain, offering to make changes in order to salvage something of your work to no avail. Finally you give up. You don’t want to listen to anyone. You don’t want to contribute to the process anymore because that was your best idea and you will never have another that good again.
Sound familiar? It should. Anyone who has been part of a group decision-making process, whether it is designing a brand or ordering a pizza, knows how difficult it can be and how little it takes to derail it. All it takes is for one person to be having a bad day to bring your world to a grinding halt, but there are ways you can mitigate these speed bumps in the creative process.
Hedge your bets
One of the oldest pieces of good advice ever uttered is “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Just because you think you’ll hit a bull’s eye with your first shot doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a few in the chamber. I have often found that the casual afterthought you put there to fill up the page can be the one idea everyone loves.
You may think your work speaks for itself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help it along. Having a well-reasoned argument backed up by research can mean the difference between a pat on the back or a trip back to the drawing board. All that being said…
Know your audience
If you tell a joke and no one laughs, it’s not them, it’s you. It is one thing to have a great idea but if the audience is not receptive then they are not going to get it no matter how much you tell them how good it is. Your message must always be tailored to fit your specific audience. Remember as a rule of thumb, if you have to explain it, it’s not working.
Keep an open mind
Not all feedback you receive will be constructive (and in many cases it can be downright cruel) but that is no reason to close yourself off. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, so if they feel you are listening to what they have to say they will be more likely to reciprocate. This forms the basis for a dialogue, which is eminently preferable to a shouting match. Nothing kills the exchange of ideas like griping.
Be prepared to let go
One of the noble truths in the Buddhist philosophy is that the origin of suffering is attachment. There will come a time when no matter what you do, your idea cannot be saved. That is why you must be able to allow yourself to acknowledge that fact and let yourself move on, otherwise you will find yourself facing a creative mental block. Hence the metaphor about naming goldfish, because like goldfish, you never know when an idea will go belly up, so it’s best not get too worked up when it gets flushed.
The creative process is always a challenge and can invariably kick the shrinking violets of the world into the tall weeds. It is predictably unpredictable. But it is also one of the most rewarding experiences you can participate in: it stretches your mind, challenges your talents and always pushes you forward. Like goldfish – there’s always plenty more ideas to choose from. You just have to be open to the challenge.