One of the best things about working for myself (aside from the boss touching me in the shower every morning) is the fact that I can kill good ideas instantly and move on.
In many big organizations, good ideas hang around for years. They rarely make any real money. They make a lot of busywork for people. And nobody is willing to say: Look this is a good idea. But it’s not a great idea. So let’s kill it.
I adore bad ideas. An editor once proposed a cookbook where you used your woodworking tools to prepare the recipes (rig a router to mix cake batter; a band saw to crosscut salami; a block plane to slice cheese). Another time our magazine’s owner demanded we put “Miss Makita” on the next cover because woodworkers love T&A. Then there was the idea to publish a woodworking calendar where all the models were naked except for their shop aprons (I proposed calling it “Fur & Flubber”).
Bad ideas are (usually) easy to spot. But sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between a good idea and a great idea. Especially when it comes to writing a book.
For me, the best strategy is to put my book ideas on probation. I’ll work on the book for a while and see if I become obsessed with it, or if it becomes boring. The minute I get bored, I kill the idea.
I know when a book is working when I’m barefoot in my underwear and shaping spindles at my workbench, trying a new idea to get them smooth, straight and perfectly tapered with the minimum number of strokes with a block plane.
And that’s when I wave to my neighbor Doris and her dog, Duke, as they pass by the storefront’s window.
I still haven’t quite adjusted to moving my workshop out of a windowless basement.
— Christopher Schwarz
Read other posts from the “Making Book” series here.
16 thoughts on “Making Book Part 10: Death to Good Ideas”
This is one of the key differences between bad and good leadership in any organisation, whether it’s one person or a thousand. Whenever you put time and resources into initiatives that don’t produce results (no matter how good an idea they seem to be), you’re starving the ones that do. That’s why one of my tests of a good leader is whether they can quickly spot and squash any projects that don’t contribute to the core mission. Bad bosses let people run with ideas indefinitely, soaking up resources for way too long and the business becomes stuck in a mire of a thousand zombie projects. If the boss isn’t savagely closing things down on a regular basis then I start to worry. Particularly if the boss is me.
I love all of those bad ideas. I would buy that magazine. I would buy a video of someone mixing cake batter with a router.
But then someone would come along and design a hydraulic lift system for a tilting-router-cake-mixer-stand and ruin it for everyone.
I often work in the shop in my underwear. Thank god my shop is not in a fishbowl.
I have not worked spindles with a block plane yet. It’s actually the number one reason why I want to make a new chair, just to try it out.
Is the editor with the Miss Makita magazine cover idea the same one who posed Megan on the cover with Gluebo?
I’m afraid I was the editor who pushed for the cover with Fitz and her bench. The Miss Makita cover was the braininfant of the new owner of the parent company. He thought woodworkers were no different than contractors. He also thought we should sponsor a car on one of the racing circuits…
If LAP sponsors a car, can I drive? I’m on the highways around Boston all the time, so i have experience.
So long as it is a woodie wagon
I never knew there was a Miss Mikita!
Now, what were you writing about?
“ touching me in the shower” What’s this true confessions of a woodworker?
Ignore that. When he said he showered every day, I knew it was fake.
Do I ever have stories about managers and editors who come up with ‘great’ ideas that everyone else involved instinctively knows would make the company the laughing stock of its customers. Sometimes it is tempting to let it happen. Almost, except you don’t want your name on it!. Every artist and designer knows from experience that ‘everyone is a design expert’ when reviewing someone else’s work, even if those same persons could not come up with an idea or design from a blank slate if their lives depended on it. Of course legitimate feedback is valuable and acceptable, but it is impossible to get across to higher ups that their ‘favorite’ color is not the point of the design exercise: it is not about them. There is talent and instinct involved in ideas, designs and color choices. Designers have one perfect trick up their sleeves however: deliberately include one error or obvious mistake in whatever work goes for review. The decoy will be glommed on and reviewers will be satisfied that their work has been accomplished. There is a famous work on the subject that is prized by designers, titled “Nine Raspberries”.
Can you please link or give more info on the “nine raspberries” i cant find it with google?
Unfortunately it was put out by a high end paper company as a demonstration/sample of the use of one of their lines of papers, something that was routinely done to give to designers who worked for large corporations that bought large quantities of paper for marketing publications. I worked at headquarters of a multi-national life insurance company for 27 years before retirement, so I have a sizable collection of beautiful samples. I have only the one copy of Nine Raspberries. It is possible that if you did a running search on a site like ebay it might turn up over time. I would have to dig through my archives to remind myself of which paper company put it out. It had a black cover with a row of embossed red raspberries on it. I might check with some design and sales friends to see if they may have a copy.
I’m looking for Nine Raspberries. also. Got a link or a purchase site? I have subscribed to that whole idea in construction and plan review for years. Thanks,
Posing Megan on the cover, that was a great idea if I’ve ever seen one
Well, that was an awesome visual. I would have waved, too.
I used to work out of a home office and my wife would come home from work and find me in my bathrobe, making calls and doing edits… at 3 in the afternoon. And, then there was the day that i forgot that she was going to be bringing home three of her co-workers for an afterwork meeting…
Its all good until the situation is reversed and the customers walk in in bath robes
Troubling, Sir. I agree with your observations, however. But, troubling.
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