Some of the best ideas in the world are sitting on old shelves gathering dust or in an old computer gathering viruses.

Why did these ideas never happen? In many cases it was fear of exposing the idea to public scrutiny and the possibility of criticism, mockery, or —worst of all — silence. The idea was born, lived, and died in fatal isolation.

Scott Belsky’s survey of top creatives in Making Ideas Happen found that community engagement was absolutely essential to moving ideas forward. The myth of the solitary genius is just that, a myth. Although some of the great inventions are associated with individuals — Thomas Edision, Alexander Bell, etc. — closer inspection almost always reveals that it was a community effort.

Physical and digital communities
Although your community may be limited to your physical environment – your family, church, workplace, neighbors, etc., the hyperconnectivity of the Internet age has multiplied the possibilities for community engagement:

  • A writer can share draft chapters on her blog.
  • Artists or photographers can display their work on a website or Flickr.
  • Singers can post free mp3’s of their new songs for review.
  • Preachers can post their sermons in written or audio form.
  • Teachers can share their lesson plans.

Benefits of sharing our work with a community are:

  • Accountability is strengthened through public commitment.
  • Creative energy is channeled into stated goals.
  • Feedback exposes holes and refines the idea.
  • Relationships provide support and inspiration.
  • Resources are multiplied through sharing.
  • Marketing and promotion opportunities are increased through wider stakeholding.
  • New ideas are generated and new dimensions to old ideas are developed.

Some other tips from these chapters:

  • The more diverse the community group the more helpful the engagement (variety in ages, genders, social circles, ethnicity, character – dreamers and doers, etc).
  • An MIT study published in the Harvard Business Review found that employees with the most extensive online and face-to-face networks are up to 30% more productive.
  • The most successful creatives have a fearless approach to sharing ideas.
  • Take an interest in helping others with their ideas too.

Best-selling author and Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson says: “I don’t believe you can do anything by yourself. Any project that’s run by a single person is basically destined to fail.” (Making Ideas Happen, 121).

Previous posts in the Making Ideas Happen series:
Making Ideas Happen: 99% Perspiration
A Swear Word for Creative Types
Paper v Pixels 

  • Kim Shay

    I have personally seen this principle at work with my son, who is 20. He is a musician, and he does a lot of recording and re-mixing. He has met innumerable individuals through the internet, many whom he ends up collaborating with. He was even asked to contribute to a project with a gentleman in the UK, which has, in turn fostered more creativity in him. He foresees that while he will have to have what he calls “a day job,” he will continue to be able to do what he does and grow with it because of the online communities he has become a part of.

    • David Murray

      Thanks for sharing this example, Kim.

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