Bill's Conversational Musings

Idea Detractors


Earlier this year I wrote an article about where ideas come from. This article is about what can kill and idea before it even has a chance. Sometimes it is some sort of physical limitation (financial or technological) but many times the idea is lost before it ever leaves our brains. Below are a few idea detractors I have identified over the years.

Failure to disconnect

When we occupy our minds with other stimulation (social media, video games, TV, etc.) our brains cannot think of new things on their own. Sure there are times when we might come up with an idea while performing these activities. However, it is not a reliable method for generating ideas. There was an interesting study where 1 in 3 people walking down the street had their smartphones out and was using them. [1] The author of the article was making a case for boredom in that when our minds have some reflective time, we can come up with really good ideas.

"You come up with really great stuff when you don’t have that easy lazy junk food diet of the phone to scroll all the time," says Sandi Mann, Boredom researcher of the University of Lancashire of the U.K. It's important to disconnect. The brain is often equated with being a muscle where if you don't use it, you lose it. So if you don't use your imagination and let the flow of ideas come from other people then it will be harder coming up with ideas on your own.

Uncertainty and doubt

If you are not sure about whether you can do something you are less likely to attempt it. If things might not seem clear and the outcome is not 100% certain are you still going to go through with it? That is essentially the definition of risk. Think about other situations where you took a chance and how did you overcome it? Did you prepare, study, practice or pray? Uncertainty puts us in a place that is very uncomfortable. However, nobody accomplished anything great by playing it safe, the saying goes. No matter what happens you will gain is knowledge and growth. Remember we don't use WD-1 to lubricate things we use WD-40.

Doubt will kill a dream before it ever has a chance to be realized and appreciated by others. Doubt is almost always an intellectual challenge or barrier your mind has put in place. This is because doubt only exists in the mind. There's an argument that uncertainty is based somewhat on observation but doubt in the ability to carry out something is 100% mental. "All things are ready, if our minds be so," Shakespeare wrote. Therefore if any doubt exists, your mind is not ready and where the mind goes, your body will follow.

Disbelief and denial

Disbelief and denial are enemies of truth. This can either be scientific truth, historical truth or personal truth. Often the truth is painful to hear. But, it is better to have the agitation of the truth than the palliation of a lie. What that means is if the truth stirs things up that is better than a lie that makes things easier to bear.

Mistakes can be valuable lessons but only if you take time to learn from them. The mistake of touching a hot stove saves you from future injury if you realize doing it is a painful experience. Sometimes that can be a hard pill to swallow as we might be inclined to blame someone or something else. And the immediate lesson might be to take into consideration the series of events that brought you to that point. Naturally there are different levels of denial. Being aware of the issue but not acting to reduce the impact of it leads to avoidance.


I almost thought about leaving this section blank to make a point. Many do not realize that avoidance has its own set of consequences too. This is not talking about the good avoidance like avoiding going down a dark alley. This is about avoiding opportunity. I can speak from personal experience that avoiding opportunities can be big idea detractors. From the missed opportunity you fail to even get the teachings from the experience.


The pressure or urge to behave a certain way is another detractor. Your behaviors are part of your overall persona in how we engage every day through actions, words and thoughts. With compulsion, actions, words or thoughts can get in the way of other ideas that do not present themselves right away. Controlling your behaviors gives your brain time to process information and look for other solutions.

Right-brain vs. Left-Brain

Those who find themselves more creative tend to be labeled "right-brain" and those who gravitate to more analytical are called "left-brained" This notion that because your thoughts favor one hemisphere over another is also a detractor.

I recall a discussion in music class in college where the instructor was explaining that music is science based. Pitch is frequency based on, such as, a guitar string and the vibration or repeating occurrences of event over a measure of time. And that the principles can be put into a formula just like engineering and physics. f = 1/T I recall there being several students were upset at this notion. "Music is art!" one student proclaimed. "Music is an expression joy and sadness. It's fast and slow. You can't put it into a formula!" The people who find it easier for expression (right-brain) had a hard time hearing music fundamentals described in a formulaic or left-brain way.

It's important to exercise both hemispheres when looking at something. There can be technical precision in artistic expression and something very beautiful in the precision of mechanics. Once you learn to see things from both views, you open yourself up to more ideas and will find connections between the two.


Knowing what your personal idea detractors are is a powerful piece of information. You can block the detractors before they begin to take hold or at least cut their impact on creativity.

Next, we will talk about what happens when ideas are allowed to flourish.

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