I’m going to assume that just about everyone who reads this blog has lived through at least one truly awful “Why didn’t I think of that?”experience. You know what I’m talking about: Let’s say you stumble upon an unbelievably cool project while you’re flipping through a magazine, or killing time online. Maybe it’s a documentary film that seems particularly bizarre, or maybe it’s an odd new reality TV show, or whatever. But instead of actually being excited about your new discovery, you instead begin to feel overwhelmed with crushing regret. Why? Well… because someone else came up with the brilliant idea before you did! Bad times, right?
The last time I experienced one of those moments was about two weeks ago, when I first heard about Ryan D’Agostino’s new book, Rich Like Them: My Door-to-Door Search for the Secrets of Wealth in America’s Richest Neighborhoods
(Little, Brown and Co.) Ryan (that’s him in the photo above) currently holds down a day job as the articles editor of Esquire
magazine, so I’m not really sure I understand how he found the time to do the research for Rich Like Them
, but anyway, here’s the basic idea behind the book: Ryan wanted to truly understand how the wealthiest and most successful people in America actually got that way. So he took the direct approach:
“He picked the 20 wealthiest neighborhoods in America,” according to a recent review of the book in Publisher’s Weekly, “and went door to door, garnering interviews with 50 very wealthy, very different individuals — including doctors, art dealers, real estate moguls and one shrimp-peeling–machine manufacturer.”
Ryan’s book, as it happens, is a near-perfect example of the sort of ‘conceptual journalism’ projects that seem to pop into my head all the time. So naturally, I wanted to kick myself to death for not having thought of it first. I was actually disappointed with myself, for real. This went on for days. And then, almost out of nowhere, I remembered a great quote about ideas, and about how good ideas aren’t really worth shit, because after all, almost everyone has good ideas all the time. Right?
Anyway, the great quote about ideas goes on to say that what really matters, when it comes to great ideas, are not those people who simply dream them up. What matters are those people who actually act upon their great ideas. And that’s something most people rarely do. Most people who dream up wonderfully smart ideas end up talking about their idea to death, long before the real work actually starts. And that can be dangerous, because eventually, they might end up talking themselves out of it. Or maybe their well-meaning friends or family will talk them out of it. Believe me: I know this from personal experience. I’ve done it myself, more than once.
And then what happens to that great idea? Well, it never happens, of course. It flaps its wings and flies off into the ether, and into someone else’s head — someone else who may or may not actually take that great idea and do something great with it.
You see what I mean?