Ideas are meant to be given away
This week a fellow poet sent me a piece by another writer that had gripped her heart. I watched it and immediately understood why it resonated with her; the poem was concise but incisive, tackling a heavy topic in a way that at first appeared to be lighthearted and flippant, but over the course of the poem developed into a message that was rich and complex that showed a clear capacity for self-reflection and a nuanced grasp of the politics and history of the subject matter at the heart of the poem.
After reading it, I began gushing to her about my favorite elements of the piece; its rhythmic mastery, its deceptively confrontational narrative arc, and the double-meanings present in several lines that made for a reading experience worthy of meaningful introspection.
When I mentioned the double-meanings thing, she immediately agreed and referenced one line in particular that had apparently caught both of our attention.
About the line in question, she said: “That one really hits me because it’s personal and a bit complicated by shame, pride, regret & braggadocio all at once. That sort of self awareness and ethical humility in a poem is really useful if you’re going to go around talking about politics and calling people out.”
I was, and still am, deeply fascinated by her take on that line – mostly because it was a completely different analysis to the one I had ascribed to it. Not to say that her analysis didn’t resonate with me; on the contrary, I found it super illuminating. But I found it equally illuminating that the line evoked such vivid associations for both of us, but that neither of those associations shared any overlap.
Out of curiosity, I wanted to know more about how the poet related to the line – almost as though I wanted him to adjudicate. So I found an interview in which he talked about his thought process in stitching it together.
The funny thing is, though, in elucidating the journey of bringing the poem to life through this interview, it quickly became clear that his process could be synopsized by a shrug and the sentence, “I don’t know, man, I just wrote it.”
Something I find wonderful about poetry, literature in general, and art more broadly is how the artist’s ideas are always in conversation with their audience; the perspective that a consumer of a piece of art brings to another artist’s work can reveal an insight that’s so intuitive to the artist that they weren’t even aware of how it guided the creation of their work. Even better than that is the fact that a consumer’s reading of another person’s art can take on a mind of its own in the consumer’s head and heart and snowball into something the artist never could’ve imagined in the consumer’s own art.
Herein lies the lesson for us as leaders and disruptors. Our ideas never reach their full potential – their greatest impact – in our own hands. The best thing we can do with an idea or a belief that we hold conviction in as good for the world is to share it so that it’s able to find the space in other people’s brains to evolve into something bigger than our imaginations alone could hold.
So here’s my call to action: strive to share your ideas not out of sheer conviction that yours are right.
Share them so the folks you lead have the space to hold them in hand, find applications of them you never would have, and propagate them indefinitely.
Good ideas start out as our own; but only great ideas end up belonging to everyone else.