To Kill a Good Idea, Part 2

Last week I wrote up a short post called To Kill a Good Idea. It was a conversation between two people where one person presented an unusual idea and the other person quickly rejected it.

It turned out to be one of those conversations where LOTS of things were going on, much more than it seemed at first (even to me, and I wrote up the post!). The more I thought about the quick back-and-forth between person A and person B--and the more I thought about your comments--the more I began to see all of these toxic elements:

1) Snark: Sure, snark can be funny, but it is also fundamentally destructive to new ideas. Better to avoid it.

2) Condescension: Person B is being superior for no good reason. It's also entirely possible he or she doesn't even realize it.

3) Ego defense: It's easy for Person B to slam down an unusual new idea if his or her ego sees it as some kind of existential threat.

4) A "Not Invented Here" mentality: If somebody else has a good idea and you didn't think of it (the idea wasn't invented "here" in your brain) it is stunningly easy to denigrate that idea. After all, if you didn't think of it, it can't be any good... right? This is yet another form of ego defense.

5) Confabulation: Reacting negatively (and emotionally) to an idea, but then unconsciously confabulating a plausible and intellectual-sounding rejection (as in: Wait, no clothes... no *underwear* for a year?). The progression is emotional response-->limbic reaction-->intelligent-sounding rejection made up on the spot. The brilliant book You Are Not So Smart addresses this rapid-fire mental progression repeatedly (and hilariously).

6) Extreme reach fallacy: Several commenters nailed this one. Person B jumps to an extreme interpretation of The Great American Apparel Diet, taking it to mean that you cannot buy underwear for a year. Obviously the idea now sounds completely stupid, and Person B get to feel superior.

7) Having a scarcity mentality about good ideas--or more broadly speaking, having a generalized scarcity mentality about things like success, reputation, credit, ideas, concepts, strategies and so on. There is an unlimited abundance of good ideas: The "Person B's" of the world could take comfort in knowing that it's okay when someone else comes up with a good idea once in a while! This doesn't mean Person B's relative status is somehow lowered.

It's incredible that all of this destructive thinking can happen so quickly and so... unconsciously such a short conversation. Imagine being person B, and going through all your days fiercely defending your ego from... everything. How many amazing ideas would you miss out on over the course of your life?

A quick postscript: I'd like to thank my readers for your attention and comments as I continue to explore subject areas tangential to cooking. I'm trying to work these things out for myself and I'm grateful to have all of you along for the journey!

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Marcia said...

I'm an engineer. "Not invented here" is a HUGE problem with a few people I've worked with. Especially PhD's.

Daniel said...

Interesting comment Marcia, thanks. Makes me wonder if the more intelligent a person is, the more "Not Invented Here" can be a problem. If one's currency is ideas and intelligent thinking (and also, if one is fundamentally insecure), then it is an ego threat if somebody else has more of that intellectual "currency" than you do.

Plus, if you're smart you can easily shoot down a new idea, frame it up so it seems dumb, etc.


Lauren said...

I think "status scarcity" is a fantastic concept that explains a lot of dumb-ass behaviour.
Perhaps it manifests on a curve though - in my experience, there is a very strong rejection of NIH-ideas ("not invented here", not "national institutes of health"!) from white-collar/educated/high status people by blue-collar/low education/low status people. It seems to me that the more expertise one accumulates, the more willing one is to allow others to have their own, different expertise. But perhaps Marcia's experience indicates that there is an upper limit to this, or that the otherness of that expertise is relevant to the NIH-ness of the reaction.

Anonymous said...

I had a very odd conversation at work the other day (actually two). Person A said something negative about my work to person B, who then reported the supposed infraction to me. I guess I am person C. I told person B, Hang on, I all talk directly with Person A. I asked person A "Why didn't you speak directly to me?" She said, "I did! I came over to see you,and you weren't there, then I phoned you, and you didn't answer, then I phoned again, and still you didn't answer!" Um, that is an INTENTION to speak to me -- no note, no voice mail, no email.