Quote Origin: “How do you go about having good ideas?” “You have a lot of ideas and throw away the bad ones”

Linus Pauling? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: An innovative scientist was once asked about how it was possible to generate worthwhile ideas. He replied approximately as follows:

 You have a lot of ideas and throw away the bad ones.

This remark has been ascribed to Linus Pauling who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: A partially matching quotation from Linus Pauling appeared in “Fortune” magazine in April 1960 within an article about prominent U.S. chemists. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1960 April, Fortune, Great American Scientists: The Chemists by Lawrence Lessing, Start Page 131, Quote Page 134, Column 2, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois (Verified with scans) [/ref]

Pauling energetically pursued his ideas in many directions. “The best way to have a good idea,” he says, “is to have a lot of ideas.”

In January 1961 “Time” magazine printed a slightly different version of Pauling’s remark:[ref] 1961 January 2, Time, Man Of The Year: U.S. Scientists, Page Number Not Specified, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Accessed content.time.com on March 23, 2023) [/ref]

Linus Carl Pauling, 59, Caltech’s outspoken, opinionated chemist, began prying into the personality of the atom just after World War I, when the laboratories of his specialty were alive with novel and productive ideas. The coincidence was explosive. For Pauling believes that “the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” He had plenty.

In 1969 Dickinson College of Carlisle, Pennsylvania awarded Pauling the Priestley Memorial Award. The local newspaper, “The Evening Sentinel”, published an article about the ceremony which included remarks from Pauling during which he employed the full version of the quotation:[ref] 1969 March 28, The Evening Sentinel, Priestley Award Winner Says Deployment of ABM’s “Silly”, Start Page 1, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

“I was once asked ‘How do you go about having good ideas?’ and my answer was that you have a lot of ideas and throw away the bad ones. Train your subconscious to discard the bad ones,” he suggested.

“Often a flash of inspiration gives scientists answers and ideas. Later the scientist looks for a logical derivation and often succeeds in finding one.”

Additional details are available in the article on the Medium platform which is available here.

Image Notes: Illustration of a lightbulb from Gerd Altmann at Pixabay.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Stephen Goranson whose message led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

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