I recently rediscovered a beautiful quote from Jonathan Ive on the fragility of ideas. This was part of the tribute he delivered at Steve Jobs’ 2011 memorial:
“Steve used to say to me — and he used to say this a lot — “Hey Jony, here’s a dopey idea. And sometimes they were. Really dopey. Sometimes they were truly dreadful. But sometimes they took the air from the room and they left us both completely silent. Bold, crazy, magnificent ideas. Or quiet simple ones, which in their subtlety, their detail, they were utterly profound.
“And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.”
It takes a special environment to nurture and incubate ideas at their most fragile, and to allow even the dopey ideas to get a hearing. Most organizations have more of a Darwinian approach to idea creation. But instead of survival of the “fittest”, the result is often survival of the “safest” ideas. And the safest ideas are rarely the most remarkable.
Organizations are often more adept at detecting risks than determining what ideas have the potential to be remarkable. It’s easier to critique than to create. I drew the following cartoon in 2007 to show how organizations are typically better equipped with cutting tools than growing tools.
There’s plenty of time in innovation for the critical phase — the vetting, the sense-checking, the tire-kicking. But often we shortchange ideas at their most fragile.
Here are a few other related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: