The Value of Stupid Ideas

Recently I stumbled on a fascinating article about Francis Crick, the man who discovered DNA. Apparently nothing like what we normally associate with the ‘mad scientist’ stereotype, Crick was neither eccentric, absent-minded or shy, quite the opposite: extrovert, loud and fond of pretty girls, Crick seemed to be doomed to remain the outsider in an otherwise quite insular scientific community.

Although a man so vividly etched in our minds, courtesy of countless science lessons at school, Crick only got going in his career as a scientist at the age of 31 when he finally gained a research studentship at Cambridge. Prior to this Crick had spent time working on anti-ship mines for the Admiralty and coasted his way through college earning himself a second-class degree in Physics. Matt Ridley’s biography of Francis Crick, the first to appear since he died in 2004, gives an excellent and fast-paced account of a long, astonishing life: Crick could serve as exemplar for late starters and for those who refuse to quit.

What caught my eye in this very entertaining article was the attitude, behaviour and relationships that Crick nurtured through countless visits to the pub, where he claims his best ideas came to him and were developed through endless conversations, especially with a series of close intellectual partners. Among them were Jim Watson, Sydney Brenner and the young neuroscientist Christof Koch, with whom Crick worked for the last 18 years of his life. Special partner or not, the rules were always the same:

” There was no shame in floating a stupid idea, but no umbrage was to be taken if the other person said it was stupid”

To me I couldn’t put it down any better myself – the essence of creative thinking and the openness, frankness and boldness that one needs to display to truly boost creative sessions to the next levels. All too often people either sit and hold in their ideas, for fear of sharing them and others not acknowledging their contribution or even simply for the fear that a ‘stupid’ question or idea would somehow brand them as ‘thick’ for the rest of their lives. Thus far too often discussions end up contrived, or silence ensues and problems don’t get any closer to being solved because inadvertently everyone’s watching each other and taking cues from the collective reluctance rather than daring to speak out.

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