November 23, 2009
The Good Thing About Bad Ideas


One of the inevitable things you will hear at a brainstorming session is "there are no bad ideas." Well, guess what? There are plenty of bad ideas. Nazism, for instance. Arena football. Bow ties.

What well-meaning "keep hope alive" brainstorming aficionados really mean is this: Even bad ideas can lead to good ideas if the idea originators are committed enough to extract the meaning from the "bad."

Do you think that War and Peace was written in one sitting? No way. There were plenty of earlier drafts that were horrid, but eventually led to the final outcome.

The key for aspiring innovators? To find the value in what seems to be a "bad idea" and then use that extracted value as a catalyst for further exploration. The following technique, excerpted from Awake at the Wheel, shows you how...


1. Bring a challenge, question, or problem to mind.
2. Conjure up a really bad idea in response to it.
3. Tell another person about your bad idea.
4. The other person thinks of something redeemable about your bad idea -- and tells you what it is.
5. Using this redeemable essence as a catalyst, the two of you brainstorm new possibilities.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at November 23, 2009 06:59 AM


I always thought that the purpose of saying "there are no bad ideas" was to encourage the free flow of ideas, in part by ensuring that ideas are not criticized by participants during the write-it-down phase of brainstorming.

Posted by: Dave Marcus [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 18, 2008 08:16 AM

Dave: Yes, you are correct.. That is the purpose of saying "there are no bad ideas." What I'm getting at is the attempt to help groups mine the value of "bad ideas." The other thing I'm getting at is that when facilitator's say "there is no such thing as a bad idea," they are, overstating their case a bit to make a point. For example, I would venture to say that if a participant in a brainstorming session suggested shooting the facilitator on the spot, that would qualify as, indeed, a "bad idea" -- regardless of how "open to all ideas" we want brainstormers to be. The technique I posted on the blog would help that group find something "redeemable" in the "kill the facilitator" idea that would both SAVE A LIFE and help the group conceive and execute a good idea that had its beginnings in a not-so-good idea (killing someone). For example, what's "good" about killing the facilitator would be "that it gives the brainstorm group a chance to lead their own session" or "not be micromanaged by the facilitator." If a group noodled on those two principles they might come up with the idea of a new groundrule -- that the facilitator had to be silent for various stretches of time during the session. (There are many other ideas that might emerge from the two "redeemable principles"). No one right way...

Posted by: Mitch Ditkoff [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 18, 2008 02:35 PM

Mitch, this reminds of the power of problems. New problems can often only be solved with new, creative, and innovative solutions. So, instead of fearing problems, using them as a springboard to new ideas is a wonderful way to get new ideas.

So coming up with a horrible solution, is like creating a "virtual problem" that requires new thinking.

Posted by: Robert Jacobs [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 3, 2008 06:37 PM

Hi Robert!
This is what I call work on others ideas. It is very useful because we "can use the six hats" to mix the contents with different roles and it turns everyone more productive. May be with a large group this can transform brainstorming in a Fun Factory

Posted by: [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 27, 2009 06:07 PM

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