Your First Idea Is Your Worst Idea

A really smart guy whom I respect told me once that he operates on the assumption that his first idea is always his worst idea. You have to keep pushing yourself to get to a really solid solution and often times our first idea does only a shallow job at solving the problem in question.

This statement made a LOT of sense to me. When I looked back on my past ideas/projects that really proved to hold out and stand up to scrutiny, it was usually my 3rd or 4th or 5th version. I have found this to be true not only for development but for so many other areas of life as well (parenting, home schooling, painting, renovation projects… I could go on an on).

FiWi All the Things!

This past year I’ve been consciously making an effort to really embrace this principle (the idea that your First Idea is your Worst Idea – let’s say FiWi for short) in all areas of my life. It’s been really interesting to see how many times I can come up with a better solution when I assume that I haven’t found it yet. Like when I’m sketching for a project; there is a HUGE difference in the third or fourth sketch from what the first sketch looked like. Even in my personal life… I have a kitchen renovation project coming up and so far I’m on my 6th version. It’s by far a much better design than my first idea. Which is so encouraging and exciting.

Being Wrong Can Feel So Right

There are times when I forget this truth (FiWi). Sometimes I have gotten ‘stuck’ on my first idea. In the moment I think: ‘This idea is amazing. If you don’t think so, let me explain it again because I don’t think you are really seeing the value of this treasure I am setting before you.’ Sometimes, this notion is legitimate in that I have done a poor job at communicating my thoughts and I need to tease it out more. More often than not in these situations, I’m just too emotionally attached to the idea. It’s my baby and of course it’s amazing. The thing that stinks about being wrong is that it feels exactly the same as being right. Your own perception tells you ‘Dude, this is golden idea!’ when in fact it may be closer to bronze or even plywood. The way good ideas are distinguished from bad ones is through criticism and questioning. There’s no way around it.

Tips for Keeping FiWi Alive

To help me keep FiWi in mind as I’m iterating, I have a list of questions I ask myself. The hope being that I safe guard against thinking I’ve reached the ‘pinnacle’ of ideas too soon.

  • How many solutions have I come up with yet? (I shoot for a minimum of 3 – no exceptions)
  • Am I assuming that there isn’t a better way?
  • Have I gotten good criticism from someone I trust to give it?
  • Does this meet the main goal and is it in line with strategy?

You might think that forcing yourself to think this way would feel burdensome, but in fact it’s really freeing. Knowing that my first idea is more than likely going to be trashed frees me up to just get the idea out of my head. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In turn, this acts like a lubricant for my creative process – getting started can really be so difficult. Coming up with idea #2 usually isn’t near as difficult as it was coming up with idea #1, and so forth. Usually it’s not until idea #4 where it gets a little harder, which is why I shoot for 3 ideas every time.

So, have to FiWi’d today?

P.S. My first version of this blog post was way worse than this one.