Change Your Thinking, Change the World
We’ve all heard the phrases “there are no stupid questions,” and “the only stupid questions are the ones you don’t ask.”
But where did this notion come from? Why would we encourage people to waste time on stupid questions? Because they hold value. They expose areas of misunderstanding and make us think in new ways, because sometimes the obvious isn’t so obvious.
We’ve been assuring people that there are no stupid questions for years, so why hasn’t this mentality taken hold in the world of ideas? Ideas are the roots of innovation, but once something has been labeled a bad idea, the natural inclination is to move on. If we feel embarrassed by the bad idea we’ve shared, we can’t move on soon enough.
What if, instead of discarding bad ideas, we explored them?
Explore Bad Ideas?
Yes. Bad ideas are invaluable.
So often, we focus on coming up with a good idea—something that we feel confident will be accepted by our directors, managers, or co-workers. How do we know it’s a good idea? Because it fits into the mold of previous good ideas.
Approaching problems by only sharing the “good ideas” prompts us to stick to preconceived notions of what a good idea is. And, while we are focused on trying to seem like geniuses, we are actively stifling innovation.
History is full of terrible-but-brilliant ideas that have positively disrupted the world as we know it.
“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home” – Ken Olsen, co-founder, Digital Equipment Corporation
In 2008, Airbnb approached seven VC firms. They received five rejections (two companies never even responded). Today Airbnb is valued at $25.5 billion.
Face it. There is a reason Apple’s slogan throughout their meteoric market turnaround was “Think Different.”
Stifling Innovation? That’s a Bold Assertion.
Bold, but true. Editing our ideas and what we share with each other can have a serious impact on collaboration and progress. So don’t be shy. Your idea may not be bad, and even if it is, the group can choose to embrace it, then use these methods to turn it around.
A springboard for collaborative problem solving
Freedom to voice all ideas in a receptive environment can result in much more collaborative problem solving. Often, good things can be born of bad ideas. Ask the group, “What makes this idea so bad?” and write those reasons down. Now, try to resolve those issues. Fixing the bad idea can result in some ingenious thinking.
Identify the Good in Bad Ideas
Rarely is an idea entirely bad. So break it apart and pick out anything that might be a good idea. Don’t write off the idea as a whole without exploring it further.
The first microwave oven was six feet tall and weighed 750lb. Imagine what the world would be like if someone had said “It would be cool to cook food that fast, but it’s just too big,” and scrapped the whole thing. The microwave cake era of the ’80s would have never happened.
Don’t expect the generation of good ideas to be a piece of cake.
Let it Flow
Not collaborating? You can still turn your bad ideas into good ones. Write down every idea without deciding whether they are good or bad. Don’t edit yourself as you record them. Research suggests that, when it comes to ideas, variety and quantity can influence quality. You may also discover unexpected connections, and generate a spark of inspiration.
Google knows the value of all ideas. In its early years, the company maintained an ideas email list where employees could interact. (photo courtesy of Roman Boed via flickr]
What if I Embarrass Myself?
This is the biggest roadblock when it comes to sharing ideas. You want to speak up, but for whatever reason you don’t. Maybe you’re junior to everyone else in the room. You don’t want to toss out an idea that was written off before your time, or suggest something so outrageous that everyone thinks you’re kidding. We’ve all been there.
Next time, get all of your ideas out on the table. Instead of shrugging off the bad ones, try to use one of the conversion approaches above to encourage a different way of thinking.
How to Encourage Idea Sharing
We’ve established that there is inherent value in bad ideas. But, how do you get everyone on board to adopt this mentality? It may be easier than you think.
If you’re the boss, happily share your own bad ideas. Sure, maybe you know they are bad ideas, but just like body language is contagious, so too is idea sharing.
When your staff hears you share a bad idea, they will feel more confident about sharing their own ideas, and less inclined to hold back for fear of ridicule or embarrassment. This also gives the team an anchor, or starting point, for the conversation. Our minds can respond to the idea put forth and let the brainstorming go from there.
A few years back, Jon Bell wrote about a technique he uses to get the ball rolling when it comes to sharing ideas. When deciding where to eat with coworkers, people often hold back. (What if no one else likes burritos, or pad Thai? They’re all going to laugh at me!) He chimes in and suggests McDonalds. According to Bell,
“An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge. Magic! It’s as if we’ve broken the ice with the worst possible idea, and now that the discussion has started, people suddenly get very creative. I call it the McDonald’s Theory: people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones.”
The Moral of the Story
Bad ideas aren’t always bad. Sometimes they are great ideas that just need a makeover. But, if we don’t share them at all, we could be missing out on the next big innovation or growth opportunity. Frans Johansson said, “The strongest correlation for quality of ideas is quantity of ideas.” So retire the self-doubt and embrace your bad ideas. They might be brilliant after all.