Have you ever had a “baby?”
Not literally. Have you ever invested such energy and emotion into a project that you felt proud and protective enough to call it your baby?
We get attached to our ideas. Consider that macaroni art your mom has kept safe for a few decades. You realize now (I hope) that it’s there because of her love, not because of your exceptional artistry. Ultimately, it was a symbolically sweet but pragmatically pointless pastiche of postmodern pasta. You were her real baby.
They have a saying about real babies. They say it takes a village.
Growing good humans requires the collaboration of a considerable crowd. As they protect, nourish, admonish, encourage, and teach in a billion tiny ways, our village helps us uncover what we are and aren’t, what we can and can’t, what we could, what we might. We can learn a lot from earth and sky, but we learn to be people from people.
Villagers don’t seek permission to help children; they just do it. Certainly there are norms and boundaries, but we recognize that grocery store clerks and people with dogs and that mail carrier lady are all playing a part to help little ones stay safe and make sense of the world. Just by existing, even miscreants and misanthropes serve as useful non-examples!
Ideas follow the same pattern. An only-child idea that doesn’t get out much can be awkward and unpersuasive. Conversely, ideas exposed to a weird, wide variety of familiars and strangers come away more resilient and refined. They grow into ideas you can put to work.
In fact, ideas are even better suited for free-range living than kids. Unlike children, ideas literally cannot be stolen—only copied. It’s also acceptable to trade your idea clones for money and goods, a practice generally frowned upon when it comes to kids, despite all these signs:
You might fear that if you give away your ideas like pretzels, then somebody might leverage one to make a million dollars. And they won’t copy and share their earnings. Because that’d be a felony.
But frankly, the odds of that are small. People don’t tend to generate million-dollar ideas all on their own. Rather, like the many hands that make light work, many eyeballs make shallow bugs.
That sounds pretty trippy until you realize it’s Linus’s Law, the open-source phenomenon (named for Linus Torvalds and articulated by Eric Raymond) whereby a great number of collaborators can root out problems in software with vastly improved speed and accuracy. Just go read about it; it’s great.
It applies beyond software, too. Candles aren’t meant to be hidden. The best ideas are meant to be shared. Diffusing them can concentrate them in surprisingly powerful ways.
So put your darlings out there. Let them play with others. They’ll grow up faster than you think.