Someone said, “There are no new ideas . . . only new combinations of old ideas.”
That’s probably true. Any idea we come up with didn’t come from nowhere. It came from all the ideas, experiences and thoughts we’ve tucked away in our minds. When we make an unexpected combination of two old ideas, we say, “Aha! A new idea!”
That’s why creative people are always looking for old ideas to shape into new ones.
I did that when I started writing a few decades ago. Somewhere, I had picked up four boxes of old magazines. Nothing I normally read – just random ones, at least 10 years old. I figured I could look through the table of contents in each one, and stir up some possibilities of articles I could write.
I wasn’t going to steal anything or even read the articles; I just wanted to get some new ideas.
So those four boxes contained about 50 magazines each – about 200 total.
Shortly after my wife and I were married, she asked about those 4 boxes on the garage floor. “I’m going to get ideas from them, so I don’t want to throw them out.”
A year later, we moved to Phoenix – and those 4 boxes went with us.
Eleven years later, we moved back to California. My wife said, “You haven’t looked at those magazines for over 11 years. Do we really have to move them again?”
“Yes,” I said. “There are some really good ideas in there, even though they’re over 20 years old now. I’ll get to them right after we move.”
I really had good intentions of going through them.
A couple of years later, we had a yard sale. Diane said, “Those boxes are just taking up space in the garage. Why don’t we put them out and see if anybody buys them?”
I made a few more excuses. Then she said, “How about this: Let’s put them out, and you put a price on them that you’d be happy with. If they sell, you’ve got some extra money – and you don’t even know what you’re missing. If they don’t sell, you’ve still got your magazines.”
She was right. It was time to let them go.
I decided on 25 cents per magazine. If they all sold, I’d make $50.
I carried the boxes outside, and marked “25 cents” on each box with a black marker. Then I went in the house to make some coffee.
A few minutes later, I went back outside. Diane said, “I sold your magazines.”
“Really? All of them?”
“All of them.”
I asked, “So, how much did you get for them?”
She handed me a dollar bill.
“25 cents for each box – just like you had marked.”
It took a few minutes to catch my breath. She had done exactly what I had asked, but I hadn’t been clear in my expectations.
But I was a dollar richer than before.
And I had space in my garage.
And I have no idea what I’m missing, because I never looked at those magazines.
I learned two lessons that day:
- Just because I know what I’m thinking doesn’t mean someone else knows. It’s important to clarify expectations to make sure we’re on the same page.
- Physical clutter creates mental clutter. Those magazines didn’t just take up space in my garage; they took up space in my mind. I didn’t realize it until they were gone.
What have you been hanging on to that needs to go?