Thursday, March 25, 2010
The more original your idea is, the less good
advice other people will be able to give you.
When I ﬁrst started with the cartoon-on-
back-of-bizcard format, people thought I
was nuts. Why wasnʼt I trying to do some-
thing more easy for markets to digest, i.e.,
cutie-pie greeting cards or whatever?
You donʼt know if your idea is any good the moment itʼs created. Neither does anyone else.
The most you can hope for is a strong gut feeling that it is. And trusting your feelings is not
as easy as the optimists say it is. Thereʼs a reason why feelings scare us.
And asking close friends never works quite as well as you hope, either. Itʼs not that they
deliberately want to be unhelpful. Itʼs just they donʼt know your world one millionth as well as
you know your world, no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard you try to explain.
Plus, a big idea will change you. Your friends may love you, but they donʼt want you to
change. If you change, then their dynamic with you also changes. They like things the way
they are, thatʼs how they love you—the way you are, not the way you may become.
Ergo, they have no incentive to see you change. And they will be resistant to anything that
catalyzes it. Thatʼs human nature. And you would do the same, if the shoe were on the other
With business colleagues, itʼs even worse. Theyʼre used to dealing with you in a certain way.
Theyʼre used to having a certain level of control over the relationship. And they want whatev- er makes them more prosperous. Sure, they might prefer it if you prosper as well, but thatʼs
not their top priority.
If your idea is so good that it changes your dynamic enough to where you need them less or,
God forbid, THE MARKET needs them less, then theyʼre going to resist your idea every chance
Again, thatʼs human nature.
Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always ini-
Good ideas come with a heavy burden. Which is why so few people have them. So few people
can handle it.
Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships,
that is why good ideas are always initially resisted.
The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.
The two are not the same thing. We all spend a lot of time being im- pressed by folks weʼve never met.
Somebody featured in the media whoʼs got a big company, a big product, a big movie, a big bestseller. Whatever.
And we spend even more time trying unsuccessfully to keep up with them. Trying to start up
our own companies, our own products, our own ﬁlm projects, books and whatnot.
Iʼm as guilty as anyone. I tried lots of diﬀerent things over the years, trying desperately to pry
my career out of the jaws of mediocrity. Some to do with business, some to do with art, etc.
One evening, after one false start too many, I just gave up. Sitting at a bar, feeling a bit
burned out by work and life in general, I just started drawing on the back of business cards
for no reason. I didnʼt really need a reason. I just did it because it was there, because it
amused me in a kind of random, arbitrary way.
Of course it was stupid. Of course it wasnʼt commercial. Of course it wasnʼt going to go
anywhere. Of course it was a complete and utter waste of time. But in retrospect, it was this
built-in futility that gave it its edge. Because it was the exact opposite of all the “Big Plans”
The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content
ever will. How your own sovereignty inspires other people to ﬁnd their own sovereignty, their
own sense of freedom and possibility, will change the world far more than the the workʼs
objective merits ever will.
Your idea doesnʼt have to be big. It just has to be yours alone. The more the idea is yours
alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.
The more amazing, the more people willidea, the more it will change the world.
Nobody can tell you if what youʼre doing is
good, meaningful or worthwhile. The more
compelling the path, the lonelier it is.
Every creative person is looking for “The Big
Idea.” You know, the one that is going to
catapult them out from the murky depths of
obscurity and on to the highest planes of incandescent lucidity.
The one thatʼs all love-at-ﬁrst-sight with the Zeitgeist.
The one thatʼs going to get them invited to all the right parties, metaphorical or otherwise.
So naturally you ask yourself, if and when you ﬁnally come up with The Big Idea, after years
of toil, struggle and doubt, how do you know whether or not it is “The One?”
Answer: You donʼt.
Thereʼs no glorious swelling of existential triumph. Thatʼs not what happens.
All you get is this rather kvetchy voice inside you that seems to say, “This is totally stupid.
This is utterly moronic. This is a complete waste of time. Iʼm going to do it anyway.”
And you go do it anyway.
Second-rate ideas like glorious swellings far more. Keeps them alive longer.
Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the
crayons away and replace them with books
on algebra etc. Being suddenly hit years
later with the creative bug is just a wee voice telling you, “Iʼd like my crayons back, please.” So youʼve got the itch to do something. Write a screenplay, start a painting, write a book, turn
your recipe for fudge brownies into a proper business, whatever. You donʼt know where the
itch came from; itʼs almost like it just arrived on your doorstep, uninvited. Until now you were
quite happy holding down a real job, being a regular person…Until now.
You donʼt know if youʼre any good or not, but youʼd think you could be. And the idea terriﬁes
you. The problem is, even if you are good, you know nothing about this kind of business.
You donʼt know any publishers or agents or all these fancy-shmancy kind of folk. You have a
friend whoʼs got a cousin in California whoʼs into this kind of stuﬀ, but you havenʼt talked to
your friend for over two years…
Besides, if you write a book, what if you canʼt ﬁnd a publisher? If you write a screenplay, what if you canʼt ﬁnd a producer? And what if the producer turns out to be a crook? Youʼve always worked hard your whole life; youʼll be damned if youʼll put all that eﬀort into something if there ainʼt no pot of gold at the end of this dumb-ass rainbow…