Why You Need To Be Encouraging Bad Ideas

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According to the traditional rules, I could never run for public office.

Not that I want to run for public office. I don’t! I’d be terrible at it. But my point is that, according to the traditional rules (which may not even be a thing anymore), I couldn’t run. That’s because, at some point during my campaign, some reporter would begin a question with:

“Mr. Stainton, isn’t it true that you once said…”

And my honest answer, even without hearing the rest of the question, would have to be “Yes.”

Whatever horrible thing I was alleged to have said, I probably said it. Not because I’m a terrible person (although a reasonable argument could be made for that). No, the reason I probably said the horrible thing is because I worked on a comedy TV show. And on that show, in the privacy of the writers’ room, there was one cardinal law:

No self-censorship.

Anything—and I mean anything—was fair game, even if we knew we could never say it, show it, or do it on television.

Now, why would we have that cardinal law? For the same reason that I think you should have a version of it for your own team:

Because you never know which is the idea that leads to the idea.

You never know which is the #idea that leads to the idea. #creativity #innovation #creativethinking #leadership #leadingcreativity #teams #creativeteams Click To Tweet

The idea that leads to the idea. That is such a critical concept in breakthrough thinking, and yet this may be the first time you’ve ever heard of it. Here’s what it looks like:

Your team is sitting together, trying to brainstorm ideas for a breakthrough product that will blow the competition away. Out of nowhere, Kim—one of the newer members of your team—blurts out something that is clearly unfeasible, stupid, and quite possibly illegal.

“Kim,” you patiently explain, “here are the reasons that won’t work. [You list the reasons.] Now perhaps you should just sit quietly while the grownups think.” [Note: Yes, I know you aren’t like this. You would never say something like that…at least, not out loud. But perhaps you know people who would.]

Kim shrinks back, vowing never to speak up again. But, just then, Dale makes a comment.

“You know, Kim’s idea might not be workable…but…that one part got me thinking. What if….”

And then Dale says the thing that causes you to break open the good champagne. It’s the million dollar idea.

But here’s the thing:

Dale would never have had the million dollar idea if Kim hadn’t had the unworkable idea—the idea that leads to the idea.

When you dismiss “bad” ideas out of hand, you’re discouraging others from sharing their own ideas, for fear (justified or not), that they might also be “bad” ideas.

When you dismiss “bad” #ideas, you’re also discouraging the good ones. #creativity #innovation #creativethinking #leadership #leadingcreativity #teams #creativeteams Click To Tweet

But if a “bad” idea turns out to be the idea that leads to the idea—the million-dollar idea—is it truly “bad”? [Look! Bill’s written a Zen koan!]

You may not be able to say the things in your office that my team and I could around the comedy table (at least, not without having a serious conversation with HR). You need to decide where that line is for you and your team. But no matter where that line is, you need to encourage all ideas—the good ones and the “bad” ones.

Because you never know which is the idea that leads to the idea.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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