As a parent of two small children, I’m constantly dealing with bad ideas. Trying to ride the dog like a pony? Bad idea. Attempting to jump down a flight of stairs? Bad idea. The list goes on, and you get the idea. I’m constantly saying things like “No. Please stop. That’s really not a smart thing to do. Just wait until your mother comes home.”
But what about dealing with my own bad ideas as an adult in the working world?
Like so many other professionals, I’ve grown accustomed to squelching ideas that don’t immediately seem optimal – not out of fear of personal injury (see dog-as-pony rides, stair jumping), but out of fear of being judged negatively.
And it’s time for that stop.
We need to embrace our bad ideas, because it’s their very “badness” that makes us explore, extend, and discover.
They unleash our creativity, and allow us to grow both personally and professionally.
So how do we go about doing that, how do we start to retrain the way we think about our bad ideas, and how they can actually be helpful instead of harmful? The following list should help get you on the right path to celebrate the bad ones, and keep moving forward towards the great ones.
1. Let go of the fear of a bad idea.
Nobody wants to make a mistake. It can make you feel like an amateur, and open up the door to criticism. Nobody wants to be judged for suggesting something that their peers consider a bad idea. You need courage and conviction to stick with a bad idea. Accept that they serve a purpose. Let them scare the hell out of you, frustrate you, or even amuse you – but above all else, let their badness be your inspiration.
2. Record everything.
Grab a notepad or a journal and start writing your ideas down. Keep a Google doc going, or use something like Evernote. Most phones these days have a built–in voice recording app – use it. If you’re in the office as part of a team, dedicate a wall to Post-it notes of bad ideas. Don’t judge the idea – just get it out there. Remember: A bad idea could ultimately be a good idea waiting for its moment to shine.
3. Quantity over quality – to start.
We need to let go of the notion that our next “big idea” is actually our next idea at all. That big idea may ultimately be built upon 100 bad ideas, or even 1,000. Sometimes, it really is about the quantity over the quality. The trick is to keep pressing onward, to stay on the path with the bad idea and keep refining it and reshaping it and optimizing it until it blossoms into something great. Having said that….
4. …Know when to let go.
This may fly in the face of #3 above, but you shouldn’t hang onto an idea as though it’s the only one you’re ever going to have. Don’t get desperate. While I stand by the ideas presented above in #3, sometimes you really need to take a step back, take a deep breath, re-focus and re-evaluate – and move on. This is definitely true if your bad ideas are sucking your (or your company’s) bank account dry, or leaving you completely uninspired and drained. Just back away.
5. Believe in yourself, and trust the process.
The more bad ideas you have, and the more failures you go through, will help you learn to trust yourself regardless of what happens. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it works.
Know that bad ideas will eventually grow up, much like a screaming 2 year old child who can’t understand why the family dog isn’t for riding on. Given enough nurturing and attention, there’s every chance that they’ll evolve into a fine grown–up, one that you can be proud of.