There's No Such Thing as a Bad Idea
I can think of several ideas that are really bad, such as taking on a project that’s certain to fail or jumping off a cliff—with or without a parachute. No doubt you can identify several more. But in the view of some, the issue isn’t whether the ideas are impractical, irrational, harmful, potentially devastating, or just plain stupid. It’s whether those ideas should be cast aside as soon as they’re voiced. And when you look at it that way, there’s a case to be made for bad ideas.
Sometimes, in fact, the straightest route to a good idea starts with a bad idea. So if you come up with an idea that you’re inclined to toss out as ridiculous, don’t. Instead, write it down because it may trigger other ideas, later if not sooner. Ask yourself why you had the idea, because there may be merit to whatever initially triggered that idea.
Furthermore, the idea may not actually be bad but simply be in need of development because as first stated, it was incomplete, didn’t solve the problem, created new problems, or was ethically wrong. So you might think of such ideas as premature ideas rather than bad ideas.
This may especially be true if it’s an idea a colleague bring to you. Before you react, “That’s really dumb!” (to yourself, of course), try to view it as a premature idea. Look for the positive aspects of the idea. Then challenge the person who came up with the idea to improve it or make it more actionable.
Another approach is to ask some questions to determine if, hidden within the bad idea, are the seeds of a good idea. For example, ask if the idea can be simply stated; if not, it may be too complex to have a future. If it’s a product idea, can you envision the rational and emotional steps that would lead people to select and use the product? If it’s a project idea, can you identify whose buy-in you’d need to have a chance of its being accepted?
Viewed this way, there’s no such thing as bad ideas, just bad actions. If, after an appropriate amount of evaluation (whether minutes or months), the idea proves inappropriate, unworkable, ridiculous, or dangerous, you can go ahead and kill the idea.
But don’t forget the flip side: There’s no such thing as a good idea until it’s been acted on, implemented,and proven valid. A great idea that’s not acted on has no value at all.