Is there really ‘no such thing as a bad idea’?

Dave Birss

“It’s like declaring that there’s no such thing as a bad shoe…”

If you have ever had the unalloyed pleasure of participating in a brainstorm, you might well be familiar with the facilitators mantra “today in this room there are no bad ideas’. Meaning, ‘build, don’t judge – let it all flow’. There can often follow a torrent whose quality is (to be polite) questionable.

Dave Birss has been around the block when it comes to brainstorms. He’s the founder and editor of ‘open for ideas’ - an online magazine dedicated to giving practical advice that opens up creativity to everyone. He talks, he broadcasts, he writes, he consults, he workshops. He’s very savvy on digital, he’s very smart, he’s very creative and today we ask him “Dave, is there really no such thing as a bad idea?”

I believe this phrase is responsible for annual losses of millions of whatever currency you deal with (unless you’re in Zimbabwe, where the figure’s more likely to be in the gazzillion billion trillion schmillions).

It’s uttered thousands of times an hour at the start of brainstorm sessions around the world, encouraging people to keep their ambitions low and spout inane drivel.

I understand it’s said with all good intentions. The aim is to encourage even the quiet ones to express ideas they’re nervous about. But sadly, it just seems to enable the mouthy ones to fill the silence with low-quality tongue-flapping.

And think about it – it’s just not true. It’s like declaring that there’s no such thing as a bad shoe. Clearly there is. I’m wearing a pair right now (and the left shoe is slightly worse because there’s a bit of exposed rubber at the heel that creates a flatulent parp when I walk).

I’ve been running idea-generation sessions for years and clients regularly tell me they can never get the same quality of ideas in their traditional brainstorms. One of the reasons for that is I tell people we’ll be creating brilliant ideas, not aiming to express duff ones. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe people tend to achieve what they know is expected of them. But please don’t tell them my secret. They may stop hiring me.

Dave Birss, A Curate's Egg

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