- Scott H Young - https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog -

In Search of Valuable Ideas

Everyone is looking for valuable ideas. Those ideas that have the power to change the way you think, act or see the world. Virtually everything you read, listen to or watch with any serious attention is to find these ideas. Chances are you’re here right now looking for a valuable idea. The question is how can you find and create these valuable ideas?

If you are a blogger, then you are undoubtedly in a constant search for valuable ideas. Valuable ideas get your posts linked to and talked about. In my brief history of blogging I can attribute most of my traffic levels to just a few posts that gathered many times the number of links than other posts I wrote about the subject.

Even if you don’t own a blog, the quest for valuable ideas is critical to your life. Valuable ideas are the seeds of getting ahead in any area of your life. Whether it is your career, your relationships or your personal health and effectiveness, some ideas can make drastic improvements, while other ideas fail to do anything.

What Makes an Idea Valuable?

If you want to start uncovering and creating more valuable ideas for your life or to share with others, you need to fully understand what makes an idea valuable in the first place. I think there are several factors that go into the quality of an idea. More importantly I think it is the features that don’t make an idea more valuable that are really worth discussing.

Truth or Importance Don’t Make Ideas Valuable!

Fellow blogger, Ben Casnocha posted an excellent entry [1] recently which inspired this very topic. In the article, Ben discusses why even important or true ideas aren’t valuable because they are too common. Although this makes sense, I’ve seen (and unfortunately read a few) too many self-help books where the core theme is in advocating things like persistence, discipline and faith.

The problem is that although persistence and discipline are incredibly valuable to practice, they are relatively useless as ideas. Why? Because it is common knowledge that you need persistence and discipline, so repeating these points is unnecessary. So if simply being true or important doesn’t make an idea valuable, what does?

A Look Through The Archives

I think if you want to get a glimpse at the characteristics of valuable ideas, looking through the archives on this website is a good idea. Not because I think there are so many valuable ideas, but quite the opposite, because they are so subtle and rare. The 80/20 rule doesn’t even come close to demonstrating the disparity between certain posts and the amount of links they gathered.

If I look through my archives of over 150 full length articles and nearly eight months of posting I have begun to notice certain characteristics of posts that tend to draw a lot of attention and the characteristics of posts that go completely unnoticed. Although explaining a trend is easier than predicting the future, it does help in finding the qualities of valuable ideas.

I would say that a good eighty to ninety percent of my traffic is the result of only about a dozen posts. Some of these gathered a fair bit of links simply by being in a prominent blog carnival or contest, so I won’t count these. Of the remaining posts I would say this forms the top of the list of most spontaneous linkings:

Habitual Mastery [2] (My traffic went up 5000% in one day because of this series)
Enthusiasm [3]
Energy Management [4]
Overcoming Discouragement [5]
Don’t Be Yourself [6]

The most discouraging thing to myself and many other bloggers in similar situations is that before posting one of these valuable ideas, I have no clue whether it is going to be successful. Other times I have written ideas I felt were equally valuable, important or useful and they didn’t even collect a single comment. What are the deciding factors?

Features of a Valuable Idea

For anyone whose success in an area of their life depends on creating or transmitting valuable ideas, I think determining what characteristics make an idea valuable would be extremely important. From looking not only at my own blog but various other successful blogs, I think I have been able to identify some of those key characteristics that make an idea valuable.

1) Originality

None of my successful posts were based on ideas that were already covered to some extent. Every single one of them was either an original idea based on my own experiences or an idea that had been largely hidden from most people. Therefore it reasons that originality is probably one of the most important factors in making an idea valuable.

Although this process inevitably lowers my posting frequency, whenever I encounter a potential idea to blog about I always ask myself whether I feel it is suitably original. If the same idea has already been expressed, then I move on to another idea. The same is true in your own life, if an idea sounds somewhat familiar it has virtually no impact than if it is new and fresh.

Of course, stating that original ideas are more valuable is itself a hardly original idea, so I won’t make a hypocrite out of myself and I can continue with the other less known points.

2) Counter-Intuitiveness

An idea immediately becomes far more valuable if it is counter-intuitive. If common wisdom says one thing and your idea proves the opposite, the idea suddenly becomes extremely valuable. Of course the idea still must be true, but if you have enough reasoning to back up that your counter-intuitive idea is correct, it is very valuable indeed.

I witnessed this success when my post, Don’t Be Yourself, gathered a fair bit of attention. By turning the conventional wisdom on its head and offering a completely counter-intuitive idea, the idea became very valuable. This feature of valuable ideas can backfire if you don’t provide enough evidence and persuasion to back up your idea, but if you do it correctly it is incredibly powerful.

Just as I try to discard unoriginal ideas before I write, I also try to discard ideas that are too close to common-sense to be valuable. Although true common-sense is hardly common, the further an idea is away from that often misused concept the more valuable it becomes. Assuming of course, that the idea is true. The success of books like Freakonomics and The Tipping Point are a great example of how counter-intuitive ideas are far more valuable.

3) Ease of Understanding

A valuable idea can be summarized and transmitted easily. If your idea is counter-intuitive and original but it is difficult to understand, it loses a lot of its value. To explain this phenomenon, think of each idea as a weight that must be carried in the mind. Heavy and bulky ideas take up so much space and displace so many smaller ideas that they become less valuable. So to make an idea more valuable, you need to make it streamlined and efficient.

Part of making an idea easy to understand is simply the work of the author, speaker or transmitter of the idea. Looking back at why some of my posts, even those that had the first two qualities, failed to gather links I can explain simply by saying that they weren’t explained simply enough.

The other part, unfortunately, is that some ideas are simply so complex and esoteric that they are very difficult to chew down into a small and simple concept. Quantum physics, discussions about the existence of free will or God and ethics rarely squeeze into nice, tidy packages and lose a lot of value.

I’m bound to get a comment saying that just because an idea is complicated doesn’t make it any less valuable. I disagree. The value of an idea comes from its usefulness and its ability to be shared. Complex ideas are harder to use and more difficult to share even if the innate importance of the information is great.

So a truly valuable idea is one that fits into as small and easy to understand a package as possible, and strays from common ideas as much as possible while still containing the evidence strong enough to support itself. If this makes an idea valuable, how can you create those valuable ideas?

Creating Valuable Ideas

Any creative exercise is largely about luck and volume. You need to throw enough ideas around until you find one that happens to fit the parameters you are looking for. That being said I think there are several ways you are more likely to uncover valuable ideas.

Although I am using blogging as an example of how you can use this skill, finding valuable ideas works in any field. If you are a designer, programmer or even a stay at home parent, finding creative and valuable ideas is critical.

Reexamine Old Problems

Most of my posts come from looking at common problems and trying to solve them, disregarding any past solutions already created. Many old problems are unsolved or have a suboptimal solution are prime targets to find valuable ideas. Just by thinking about one of these problems you may come up with many new and original ways of solving them. Common-sense solutions generally are just one of many appropriate and sometimes more effective answers.

Test Assumptions

A lot of common sense is based on assumptions that aren’t necessarily valid. Our entire society and culture is built of assumptions that often don’t make a lot of sense. By testing assumptions it is easy to stumble upon those valuable ideas that were hidden behind them.

I got a comment from a fellow blogger who said that he appreciated my blog because I take into account human nature instead of just assuming people act the way they should. Although I don’t always live up to that high standard, I think that it is very important to test any assumptions you have about how people do or should behave with the real world. You might discover a very valuable idea.

Examine Opposites

Seeing as being counter-intuitive is one of the key qualities of a valuable idea, I think taking a typical piece of common wisdom and flipping it around can be a powerful way to create valuable ideas. Notice the way people see things and see if it is possible to see it in the exact opposite way, you might stumble upon an idea that directly contrasts current common sense.

The best books I have read and the best speakers I have listened to have all given me ideas that were new and challenged my current thinking. By refining the idea to be easily explained and transmitted, it becomes incredibly valuable. If you are in any creative field try looking at problems and common sense from different angles to uncover those valuable ideas you are in search of.