The Value of Bad Ideas

Have you ever had what you thought was a bad idea? Of course, we all have had bad ideas. Bad ideas are not useless; they open the door for problem-solving and creative thinking. Creative thinking is necessary for success. The world is not black and white. Creativity doesn’t know right or wrong. Creativity is about growth and challenges. Too often, we are afraid of making a mistake, and we limit ourselves from exploring possibilities. There is no bad idea, and we need to have the courage and the latitude to explore the ideas.

The best predictor of good ideas is a lot of bad ones. Bad ideas are not a waste of time; they serve a greater purpose. Although it is easy to say that “I can’t contribute” in the workplace, you need to change your inner dialogue. Ask yourself, “How can I make it better?” When you brainstorm with team members, you may throw out an idea, leading to other ideas. Ed Catmill, the creator of Pixar, shares the brainstorming sessions for new films and how often there were some really bad ideas, but he went on to say that everyone has the potential to be creative.

When we brainstorm and seek ways to improve ourselves and our jobs, the outcomes can be remarkable. Even if it doesn’t work, entering a bad idea is a way forward. Bad ideas and failures are essential steps on the path to better. Each idea leads the team closer to finding the better option.

People build careers in science where they do things through trial and error to find the solution, so why are we so afraid to take a step forward and suggest that there could be a better way?

In our workplaces, we are often taught the rules. But, here is the beauty, rules can be bent and broken. 

I loved art in school; my sophomore year of high school, I got a new art teacher; she walked in the first day of class and said: “There are no rules to art, and if there are, they can be broken.” I remember thinking this was mind-blowing. Until this teacher, I was taught there were strict rules with perspective and that I could not deviate from the rules. Adhering to the rules sets up the foundation, but we often box ourselves into those rules.

Bad Ideas are building blocks to great ones.

There are two reasons why embracing bad ideas is necessary for great ones:

  1. Ideas that uniquely solve problems are usually a combination of existing ideas, many of which may seem bad at first.
  2. Accepting that most of your ideas will be bad will help you move on to new ideas faster and more efficiently.

Creative thinking is trial and error and requires that we need to be comfortable with failure. Bad ideas can be building blocks to creative thought, and often that creative thought needs to be fine-tuned to turn that bad idea into a good idea. The very core of creative thinking starts with defining the problem. Then you brainstorm with your team as many possible solutions as you can.

Do not be afraid to:

  • Dream Bigger
  • Stretch yourself. At my previous chamber, I was approached about bringing in some new community events. I was asked about bringing back the Harvest Festival, and the first thought was “we have never done that” or “it is too much work,” Another one was we started a fundraiser Festival of Trees. Dream big, have a good group of people to brainstorm and bounce ideas off.
  • Bend rules
  • Experiment
    • Treat your ideas as an ongoing experiment, working lab as you will.
  • Be okay with failure.
    • Not all ideas will be successful, be okay with saying, “that didn’t work, but we tried, and we learned.”

By Cheryl Viola, MBA, Executive Director