Your Bad Ideas Have More Value Than You Think
Why and how bad ideas can make you more creative.
Why should we care about bad ideas at all? They are useless. Unless…
The world is not black and white. We were taught in school to follow rules in order to find the only right solution, but this one-sided approach to problem-solving damages creative thinking.
Creativity doesn’t know right or wrong — it speaks in opportunities and challenges.
When we fixate on finding the only right solution, we see any other idea, that doesn’t fit the success criteria, as a failure. Bad ideas equal failure and no one likes to fail.
The thing is that to create something worthwhile you need many ideas. The chances that you create a perfect something from the first try are pretty low. In fact, John Kirwan, a professor of rheumatology at the University of Bristol, conducted an experiment to calculate how many bad ideas do you need to generate a good one.
He noticed that only 2.7% of the ideas were “exceptionally good”. So less than 3 ideas out of 100 were interesting and original enough. Were the rest 97.3% a waste? Of course not.
The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. — Linus Pauling
Truly interesting and creative ideas come after you’ve exhausted familiar and ordinary ones. During the ideation process, your mind first turns to more functional but less unique ideas, something that you already know or have experienced.
Most creative ideas come to you once you push through that point and start making unexpected connections without inventing something completely impossible. But to get to that point you still need to get lots of ideas out of your way.
Bad ideas are never a waste of time and effort. They are part of the creative process and a necessary source of information. But in the pursuit of good ideas, we often forget about it.
Think of something worthless that you’ve recently created. What happened after you were done? How did you decide that it was a bad idea? How fast did you get rid of it?
“Bad” is usually defined as useless. When an idea doesn’t work or doesn’t have the potential we label it bad and store it away.
But there is so much we can learn from bad ideas.
Think of it as an experiment. When you are testing something a negative result is a result too. It’s an indicator of the wrong direction and of the changes that you can make.
A chance to test your ideas and fail can provide you with the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions and move faster in your projects. It saves you from making guesses in the dark.
Bad ideas enable creativity
There are many reasons why we get less creative as we grow up. But all people have creative potential — it’s like a muscle and can be trained. This is where bad ideas come in.
Creativity is a non-linear process akin to exploration. Aiming only for good ideas is another expression of perfectionism, that doesn’t allow any mistakes. Bad ideas are like mistakes that you make on purpose to become more agile in thinking.
Any idea can be a great idea if you think differently, dream big and commit to seeing it realized. — Richard Branson
Good ideas have limitations — they have to be functional, they need to fit a certain situation and provide value. Bad ideas on the other hand don’t need anything at all. You can dream as big as you want without worrying about quality.
Try and test them with intention. Rules are for good ideas to follow, but you can see how far you can actually go without breaking them. To think outside the box you first need to define the box.
Train your mind
Use bad ideas as a practice before creating something good. Think of it as warming up exercise to unleash your creative thinking. Do it for yourself and enjoy the exploration.
Increase creative potential
Widen your horizons. Try coming up with ideas that are extra crazy, extra unbelievable, extra impossible — stretch your potential. Find combinations between unrelated things.
Treat your ideas as an ongoing set of experiments. You can decide on what makes them good and bad and observe your thought patterns. Take an ordinary object and practice with it. Ask yourself what would change if its characteristics changed to extremes, if its purpose was different, if you had to reinvent it.
Make peace with failure
The best thing you can do is treat your bad ideas as experiments and learn from them. This way they are never wasted.
Bad ideas are an inexhaustible source of information and inspiration.
So, what do you do with bad ideas?
One thing that doesn’t change is that we can’t really use bad ideas. Then how do we get the most value out of them?
Appreciate the “badness” in them. This is the result of your creative process. So what if you made them crazy and impossible? You still thought of them while others didn’t.
Some ideas are so bad it makes them almost good. Just take a moment to see them as an artist and enjoy your minds creations.
Nothing surpasses the beauty and elegance of a bad idea. — Craig Bruce
Find everything that is wrong with these ideas and why there is no way they can work. Go as hard on them as you can. Don’t worry — you are doing this to improve your good ideas and the way to do it is to find everything that can go wrong and eliminate it.
Ask yourself why they can’t work and find the root of the problem. Twist and stretch them. Ask “What if?” questions to see how your idea would react to a changing environment. Don’t just state the facts — try to understand the causes.
Tear them apart and pick the best pieces. Mix and match to find new combinations. Can one idea’s problem be another idea’s solution? Put them together and find a way to join them into one.
Use bad ideas as a foundation for improvement. Create better ideas by shaping the ones that you already have. If you see that the core of the idea has potential, change the parts that are not working to create more value.
Don’t give up on bad ideas. They might not be useful in the conventional sense, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t be useful for you personally.
Use what you learn from them to improve your good ideas and enhance creative thinking. The more you practice the more you will notice the value behind them. After all, one man’s bad idea is another man's opportunity.