by Dan Oshinsky on January 19, 2010
The revelation came to me in the moments before sleep, and I went searching for something to scribble it down on. All I could find was a small envelope on my kitchen table.
But what else could I be expected to write on in such a moment?
What hit me last night, what pulled me out of bed and sent me searching for any scrap of paper, was a simple truth: I only have good ideas when there’s barely anything around to write on.
I have owned dry erase boards that I’ve never used, oversized notepads that stayed blank and binders that held nothing.
But I’ve captured eureka! moments on cocktail napkins, scribbled genius ideas in the margins of newspaper columns and on business cards. I’ve rarely had success carrying around a notebook, with one exception: in the summer of 2008, when I had this bound, 3” x 2” pad that I covered every inch of with tiny thought bursts during my travels in China.
The more I consider it, the more the words jotted down last night on the back side of that envelope ring true: “The profundity of an idea varies in inverse proportion to the size of the paper it’s written on.”
Or, in words: the smaller (and stranger) the thing I’m writing on, the greater the eureka being written. (1)
I’ve always kept these big legal pads around for the moments in which I’d need to fully flesh out an idea. But maybe it’s that a confined space — forced brevity! — is the key to innovation.
Shouldn’t the best ideas should be jotted down in their most basic form first before being carefully considered and expanded upon? Isn’t it only fair to let a spark turn into a slow burn, to let brief moments of genius turn into something of scale?
This is the kind of revelation that could force a change in lifestyle. I’ve started thinking about getting rid of all the big legal pads around my apartment. With the money saved, I could head to a local paper store instead and buy a stack of customized cocktail napkins. (“From the Desk of Dan Oshinsky,” they’ll read.)
That’s just one idea; I still haven’t decided what the next step is. But I’m not too worried. I picked up a tiny green receipt from a parking garage the other day. It couldn’t be more than an inch tall and two inches wide. I guess I’ll just have to keep it around and wait for inspiration to strike.
- This may explain why I’ve jotted down great ideas on the inside of a paper towel roll but never on an actual, oversized paper towel. ↩