“I can think. I can fast. I can wait.” -Siddhartha
In 2012, James Cameron and his production company Lightstorm Entertainment defended themselves against multiple lawsuits from people who claimed they had the original idea for the film, Avatar.
To put accusations to rest, Cameron wrote a 45-page sworn declaration that detailed exactly how he came up with the idea for the film.
The timeframe he outlined? Five decades.
In the document, Cameron shows a drawing he made in the 11th grade called, “Spring on Planet Flora” which depicts an oversized jungle with a tiny spaceman walking on gigantic trees with interconnected branches. He references a script he co-wrote in college about a wheelchair-bound man who surgically removes all external sensory input and journeys through his own mind and lands in an alien world. He shows a script he wrote in 1970 called Xenogenesis that had fan-lizard drawings, identical to the fan-lizards in Avatar.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Write while the heat is in you.”
And yet, the best ideas often need time to breathe and develop.
The story and characters that would eventually become Avatar had been scratching at Cameron’s imagination since he was a child. And he spent a lifetime chasing it. And then, even after he finished the official screenplay, he waited another 10 years to make it.
Cameron knew that CGI had a long way to go before he could bring the visually mind-blowing world of Avatar to life. There was also part of him, probably, that understood he still needed to grow as a filmmaker before being the right person for his own idea.
While Cameron waited for technology to catch up to his imagination, he made Alien, Terminator, and Titanic — some of the most successful movies made in history. And yet, even with all the success, all the accolades, he still held tight to the one idea that had been following him most of his life.
Great ideas take patience. Patience for them to come, and patience to become the person ready for them. Ideas, like us, need space to grow and improve. They need time to swirl and spin in our subconscious incubators before hatching.
When Google was just starting out, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page didn’t market it to the masses. While everyone else in the tech space was rushing to 10x users every day, they leaned into patience.
Sergey Brin is quoted as saying this at a conference, pre-world domination:
“We don’t do any outbound marketing, promotion or hype. Let me tell you why: we figure that one day everyone will use Google. We also know that everyday Google gets better. Since we’re getting better every day we’re in no hurry to have people use it for the first time because tomorrow, or the day after that, is soon enough because it’ll be better.”
By the time technology, the script, and Cameron’s skill level were ready to make Avatar, the world was ready as well. The film broke box office records with over $2.7 billion.
What if Cameron had been stubborn and forced Avatar out as his first film? We know for sure the 3D visuals would not have been there. And we know that it would never have been what Cameron had actually wanted for his idea.
There’s always the feeling of wanting to rush to the end. There’s always an urgency propelling true creators forward with a gnawing pressure to execute and present what we’ve made. We all starve for the finished product. The idea has been festering, growing and kicking in our heads for months, years, and decades. Why not get it out as soon as possible?
To live a life of meaningful accomplishment, we have to know when our ideas are ready to fly and when they need more time in the nest. Patience and objective eyes tell us when our ideas, ourselves, and our audience is ready for what we’re bringing.
Keep growing, keep learning, keep developing. And only when the time is right, take action.