The Myth of Bad Ideas

No such thing as bad ideas? Tell her.

“There’s no such thing as a bad idea.”

We say this often when we are soliciting ideas from others. I’ve heard people saying this during brainstorming sessions. We want people to be unafraid. We want them to understand there’s no consequences when they share their ideas. We’re telling them all ideas are equal.

We’re lying… and we’re wrong.

Lie #1 – All ideas are equal

No they’re not. Some are better than others. Unlike Santa Claus or the Boogie Man, bad ideas do indeed exist. They are hastily typed into emotionally-charged emails. They hang in your closet. They fill fast food restaurant menus. Bad ideas not only exist, they are everywhere.

Lie #2 – There are no consequences

I’m sorry, there are consequences to sharing your ideas. You may be embarrassed. There’s a chance someone will snicker, scoff or simply ignore your idea altogether. We all know this is true, so we should stop being disingenuous by pretending otherwise.

We are wrong about fear

Finally, no matter what we do, people will be afraid. We are wrong to expect them to be unafraid. We can only hope there is something more powerful than that fear, like the desire to contribute, to matter or to add meaning. We can mitigate the risks, but don’t waste your time trying to reassure people there is nothing to fear. The fear is there. It is real. Now, what are we going to do with it?

What can we do?

If bad ideas do exist (and we established they definitely do), then what can we do to help people share their ideas more freely?

Invite their bad ideas.

Let them know, “We want your bad ideas. That’s the best place to start, because bad ideas lead us to good ideas.” In fact, start the idea generation with a few bad ideas of your own. Get people talking about what could be done to improve your bad idea and make it better. Pretty soon, some good ideas come forward and develop.

Bad ideas are worms.

Nobody wants to eat a worm (not even a fried worm). But when you’re fishing, you need bait. So, you start with a worm on your hook. You put it in the right waters and you end up eating a nice fish dinner later.

So, next time you want people to share their ideas, don’t resort to lying. Don’t deny the existence of bad ideas. Invite bad ideas, because they are bait for great ideas hiding beneath the surface.

Dustin Staiger is a business and marketing coach in Houston, TX. He addresses team and individual effectiveness, marketing, communications and creativity for smaller, entrepreneurial organizations as well as large enterprises.

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