“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” – Albert Einstein.
I’m with Al on that. And I’m pretty sure he’d have been on board with me and Paul Coleman when we came up the idea for Car Share. Two people? In a car? We only see them on the way to work and then home again? An absurd idea for a sitcom. Yes it was ridiculous. But we knew there was hope for it. There’s so much fun you can have with a couple of well-constructed characters, constrained together in a confined space like a car. So much recognisable reality to draw upon. But it was only absurd because it hadn’t been done before; because it broke conventions of how a sitcom should work, and because we had no idea what we were doing. But as Albert also said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” And we had that in abundance. We imagined up a couple of characters based on people we both knew and on male and female truisms. I imagined Kayleigh’s mum had been a big Marillion fan in the 80s and named her daughter after their biggest hit. We imagined how Kayleigh could wind John up in his car, and we imagined how John would slowly but surely fall for his new car share buddy. But we never imagined Peter Kay would love the scripts so much he’d want to get on board.
And having trained hundreds of people in the art and science of creativity over the years, I know why the best ideas do at first seem absurd. Here are three reasons why…
- The best ideas don’t quite fit with how we currently see the world. New ideas, innovative ideas, original ideas, when we first have them or hear them, should make us stop and wonder if they make any sense. If it immediately seems altogether sensible then the chances are it’s too similar to something we’ve already got.
- No idea is born fully formed. So at first, the best ideas begin life as a challenging thought that has to jolt us out of our safe thinking; a seed of a thought that could grow very quickly into something wonderful, or more likely a germ of an idea that seems too absurd to contemplate, so it nestles into the fertile soil of our subconscious and when you’re least expecting it – when you’re walking the dog, or in the shower, or dropping off to sleep – when your busy conscious mind shuts up long enough for your subconscious to get a word in edgeways…. “Oi! Remember me… “ that little seed of a thought will have blossomed into a big, flowering idea that, now you’ve had time to sleep on it, doesn’t seem so daft after all.
- The best ideas make us laugh. Because we laugh at the truth (“Oh my God, my mate is just like Kayleigh/ Alan Partridge / David Brent / Kurtan Mucklowe”) and we laugh at surprise (“Bloody hell, I didn’t see that coming!”). And truth and surprise are the two main ingredients of great, absurd ideas. That’s why, when I train teams in how to run better ideas sessions, I’ll make sure they’re on the lookout for the laughs. If you start laughing while you’re bouncing ideas around it’s because someone has said something with an insightful truth at the heart of it, and they’ve said something that surprised you. In short, they’ve said something that seems absurd. So it’s probably an idea there’s real hope for.
So yes I’d like to think that Einstein would have approved of our absurd little idea. But just because an idea seems ridiculous at first doesn’t always mean it’ll turn into a belter. Sex Lives Of The Potato Men sounds absurd…
If you want to know more about how to have bigger, better, more absurd ideas get in touch.