Yesterday, my colleague Dave said something like, ‘I want to make sure this isn’t just a shower thought’. We were discussing changes to our product, and he wanted clarity on what motivated the proposed changes, what we want to accomplish with them, and how we’d verify whether it worked. He was offering a gut-check on whether we were falling prey to shiny object syndrome.

His concern was valid and useful. But I found his choice of words kinda funny. It made me think about the status of shower thoughts.

When Dave thinks ‘Shower thoughts’, he thinks half formed epiphany that’s not very serious. An idea that ranks pretty low among other kinds of ideas. Silly until proven brilliant. At least I think he does, it’s possible I’m wrong. Sorry Dave, but you’re stuck as an illustration in this post either way.

When I think ‘Shower thoughts’, I think of the climactic eureka of a long, unseen, subconscious process that’s probably the best idea you’ve ever had. An idea that ranks at the very top among other kinds of ideas. Brilliant unless proven silly. The shower thought is a sacred thing.

Not all shower thoughts are good. But all shower thoughts are serious. I give them greater weight than ideas that come from planning exercises, whiteboarding, researching, testing, or other forms of idea generation. In my experience, the highest quality ideas – those that move me the farthest from current paradigms to fertile new ground – are shower thoughts. Arthur Koestler’s phenomenal book The Act of Creation offers a theory for why this is. It’s a favorite of mine, and helped me understand my own mental processes better and more fully embrace shower thoughts.

I’m not opposed to testing and research and other conscious, rational methods of idea generation, and shower thoughts need critical examination before they’re operationalized. But if you shook me awake in the middle of the night and asked whether I’d prefer to take a big risk on a shower thought or a well-tested, focus-grouped idea, I’d yell, “Shower thought”, then ask why the hell you’re in my house in the middle of the night shaking me awake when you could just wait until the morning and read the blog post I write about it.