There Are No Bad Ideas: Except for That One

There Are No Bad Ideas: Except for That One
Joel Newport
December 08, 2014
Man reaching for alligator's mouth

While participating in creative brainstorm sessions, we’ve all heard the phrase “There are no bad ideas,” and we all know that it’s completely false. Bad ideas come in all forms, but usually someone who doesn’t understand the goal or doesn’t have enough information offers them up.  Sometimes they are simply too far removed from or disinterested in the topic to put in the required effort to contribute in a positive way. However, when facilitating brainstorming sessions, it’s important to recognize the valuable role bad ideas play in the creative process.

Here are four reasons why bad ideas are important:

  1. Bad ideas usually come early in the process and tend to be cliché. The faster you get through the obvious been there, done that ideas, the quicker you can get to the good stuff.
  2. Bad ideas can lead to good ideas. It’s true. An idea that just doesn’t work at all can spur a thought or an emotion that directly points to a great idea.
  3. If bad ideas come from a client, they can give you insight into what’s important to them. The actual idea may be off base, but what it’s trying to accomplish might be the key to creating something great that both you and the client love.
  4. Bad ideas can be icebreakers. If you have a group that is slow to participate, a few bad ideas can get things started and make others feel less apprehensive about sharing their thoughts.

It’s also really important how you handle bad ideas within your group, especially if one of the people suggesting them is your client or a sensitive creative on your team.

Here are three ways to handle bad ideas in a group setting:

  1. Don’t personally attack the person giving the idea. Judging an idea should not feel like judging the person who gave it. 
  2. Say what you like about an idea first. This can be difficult at times, but by highlighting something that is positive, you can spur additional ideas without putting down the bad one.
  3. Invite further ideation. Encourage the person to keep thinking beyond the initial idea.

The real thing for brainstorm group facilitators to remember is to listen. Let the bad ideas live and use them to your advantage, because the only real bad idea is to stifle creativity before it has a chance to be realized.