“You know what your job is?” one director asked a young Tom Hanks after the actor showed up unprepared to rehearsal. “You have got to show up on time, you have to know the text, and you have to have a head full of ideas.”
In short, ideas aren't extra. They aren't a "nice to have" on top of everything you bring to the job, like timeliness and preparation. They're table stakes.
This goes back to my earlier essay about writing your own material, which, as I said, isn't about putting things down on paper yourself. Creation and collaboration take different forms. Often, the most important creative contribution doesn't come from the person at the metaphorical keyboard. Look at Jeff Koons! No, writing your own material is about (a) cultivating ideas of your own and (b) mustering the courage to say them out loud in front of other people.
That's the essence of creativity, but it isn't easy at first. After all, these might be "bad" ideas. Maybe even silly, embarrassing, or totally awful ideas. Worse, saying these ideas out loud might implicitly reveal your ignorance. And you can't know which is which until you share them.
As someone who has drawn more than one withering glance at a long conference table, let me tell you: blurting out nonsense in front of others gets easier with practice. Once you summon the courage to share a "dumb" idea or two in front of a bunch of important people, you realize a few things:
- The least creative ones have the strongest negative reactions.
- The negative reactions are powered by fear.
When those eyes start rolling, pat yourself on the back. You just scared the crap out of a VP or two—congratulations! Indeed, 'tis better to be feared than loved (which Machiavelli didn't say, which means that's my quote now).
Creatively competent people welcome "dumb" ideas. They love them! Contributions that are weird, cringy, tangential, bizarre, klutzy, catachrestic, or otherwise unexpected are the most useful when you're trying to get somewhere new, interesting, and valuable. Great ideas grow best from the fertile soil of stupidity. If you want to be smart, get stupid.
Now, you may not be surrounded by any creatively competent people. They may all sneer at your dumb ideas. Doesn't matter. If your collaborators, team, and/or company are creatively hopeless, all your efforts are doomed anyway. What do you have to lose? Build that blurt muscle. Bring a head full of ideas and fearlessly share those pearls with the swine. That way, you'll be ready when you finally get the chance to shine.