September 4, 2019
I’m writing this because of how many times I’ve seen my dear, earnest peers and colleagues skip over this important step in pursuit of new research, education, or program ideas. It’s painful to watch. Let’s talk about why it is so important to learn and perfect the art of nurturing your new ideas.
Nurturing your Ideas: The What
Let’s start with the premise that ideas are real things. They are thoughts. Thoughts are real, because we use them to feel, act, and ultimately create our reality. An example from my experience was a simple thought I had – Why was there not a visible community of Black women with endometrial cancer? Fast forward through more thoughts, feelings, and actions to the reality of ECANA.
Ideas are created and birthed. They have to grow through distinct phases, however, before they transition into reality.
Nurturing your ideas, in the way I am employing this term, is to provide the appropriate location, support, and nourishment of a new idea, BEFORE YOU EVER SHARE IT.
Yes, I said it. Yes, academia is a place of collaboration, of multi-disciplinary teams that spark innovation, etc etc. It’s also a place where there are no guards or referees (with any teeth, at least). And that is why WE must own the responsibility of nurturing our ideas. Honestly, they deserve your best.
Nurturing your Ideas: The Why
If you figure out the cure for cancer, you are in charge of that idea. Not your mentors, not your collaborators nor your friends. YOU. I don’t believe you can ‘own’ an idea, but if it comes to you – you can and should be a reliable caretaker.
If you don’t take care of your idea before sharing, you expose that fragile, new, and potential game changer, to destruction before it’s ever off the ground.
I’m going to try a metaphor to explain the nurturing process. Hang with me 🙂 …
Think of pottery bowl making. You have a basin of clay and water (and whatever else goes into pottery bowls) and your hands are in there just messing around. Suddenly you look down, and there’s an actual shape there…kind of looks like a bowl. So – you stop the random motions and hold it together – in fact you have to support it for it to stay together at this point. It’s soft and super malleable. In this metaphor, this new, barely there bowl is your idea. Sharing it at this point is like letting people’s hands all over it, letting them poke at it when the walls are barely sturdy, letting them throw it against a wall and see what happens, letting them leave their sticky residue on it so you can no longer separate out what you created from their influence…you get my drift.
This…does not feel good. This looks like a WIP gone all wrong, a mentor meeting where you can’t even remember where you started, a paper or grant you write in a rushed manner, that gets killed in review. Universally sucks.
So – Stop sharing too early before going through a nurturing process! You must protect AND nurture that clay bowl until it’s solid and can stand on its own, sitting in your open palm. It’s sturdy enough to hold together, but not so rigid that you can’t optimize it. THAT’S when we share. You share to get the critical outside viewpoints, to make adjustments, to let others who also see the value of the bowl add support to the walls, suggest a shift in materials so it lasts longer, etc. (You still with me in this metaphor ?!).
You want that bowl to be yours AND to go through a strengthening and optimization process. And then, you decorate that bad boy in all of the paint, glitter, etc etc (metaphor breaking down…). You get my point. Nailing the nurturing changes the game. It changes your approach to presentations, to mentor or collaborator meetings, to conferences…everything.
If no one has ever taught you the process of nurturing…go find someone that looks ‘courageous’ to you and pin them down on their process. Then learn and make it your own. Or…get 👏🏾a 👏🏾coach 👏🏾.
FYI – people can still take that finished, gorgeous bowl and think it’s crap. Fine. You want to get to the point where it can be meaningfully judged. At that point, when you reach that quality threshold with your idea, the magic is that feedback helps you, no matter what.
Happy September! Go forth and prosper. 🖖🏾