Editing is Idea’s hot sauce

Ideas are the intangible currency of success, so I’ve heard. They say that creativity is one of tomorrow’s highly valued skills.

But ideas sure are tricky. They either flow like a rapid river, or rest like a still pond. It’s odd, but I’ve found that there is not much in between. There is no steady flow or consistent drip of potent thought. I guess it’s in the nature of an idea — she’s unplanable und spontaneous.

So when an idea hits us, we’re quick to mold it into reality because we know that time is of the essence. In business, this is even more so. Let an idea hang too long in the limbo of your mind or on your drawing board, someone else will (most likely) beat you to it.

Ideas need momentum to thrive, but not the kind we may think. Although an idea may be the result of an unexpected Aha!-moment, it needs consistent sculpting and editing to realize its potential.

This is where most of us speed through the process too quickly, too eager to share our mind’s spark with the world. I’ve been guilty of it as much as you probably have. I’ve had ideas, developed them with too little time or process or even objectivity, and felt little pokes of shame of publishing too early.

Other times, I’ve felt forced to adhere to the mainstream standard of what is the right amount of time to develop and launch something new, which is usually as quickly as possible. Or I’ve found myself too lazy to go back and re-examine thoughtfully.

Why do we default to skipping the process of editing?

Let’s agree on a definition first: Editing is the act of taking away and stripping down to the essential.

If you find yourself adding to the original idea, or taking it in a different direction, you are not through with the ideation or brainstorming process yet. Go back and spend some more time on it, even if your mind is telling you to move forward.

In the editing process, we need to ask ourselves the right questions:

  • What is truly necessary to get the idea or message across right? Not important or sounds cool or currently trending, but necessary in a way that without it, nothing else will make sense.
  • What aspects add complexity? We’ve heard it before: Keep things simple. People are going to miss the point if there are too many options or things being said.
  • Why is this idea important or helpful? The ever-important Why-question we should always circle back to.

If these questions are easy to answer, dig deeper and try to find the flaw. Objectivity needs to be practiced. It’s our idea, of course we think everything about it is important and all-round genius. But these three questions should be difficult and tricky to answer. They should push us the peel the proverbial onion, strip the layers until the quintessential core is exposed. Adding to the core later on is always an option (i.e. features to a product).

One word of caution: Editing our idea or creative work to make it more focused and smooth should not be mistaken with seeking perfection. It’s never going to be perfect. Better realize that now before it drives you crazy.

When you’ve edited a few times, you’ll discover just how challenging that can be. Having said that, it’s always easier to edit other people’s work. It’s with your own darlings and mind creations that it gets infinitely harder.

If you devote the time to consistently editing your ideas and output, you’ll soon realize that you’re training another vital skill in the process: Your ability to slice through the clutter. And that’s another skill that is becoming increasingly sought after.