When Brainstorming, Start with the Bad Ideas


At one time or another we’ve all been invited to attend a brainstorming session, where the leader stands up in front of a white board, pen in hand, and says something like, “Innovation is critical. We need to come up with some good ideas to stay innovative.  So who wants to start?”  

As any survivor of one of these sessions will tell you, what transpires over the next few hours is often generously referred to as “brainstorming,” while others might call it a waste of time.  The reason these creativity sessions often fail is because they expect participants to spontaneously generate good ideas when in fact they should be asking for bad ideas.  Let me explain.

 My colleague A. J. Chopra has both observed and facilitated thousands of brainstorming sessions, and he has witnessed the leadership skills that foster innovation.  One such skill is what Chopra calls “Growing Ideas.”   In his book “Managing the People-Side of Innovation, ” Chopra posits the following question: what is a good idea and where does it come from?  His answer is intriguing and it starts from this premise:

Good ideas are the end-product of a process that begins with ideas that are flawed, sometimes extremely so. 

Let that pervious sentence really sink in.  Go ahead, read it again.  Then, think back to all of the crazy, outrageous, extremely flawed ideas that you, or even the people who work for you, have dared to share with others.  Most likely these ideas where quickly dismissed because they shared a common trait; they were impractical!

If there is one thing we humans are good at, it is recognizing impractical ideas and squashing them like grapes.  We are like heat seeking missiles, finding impracticality in the ideas of others, especially when the come from outside of our organization or profession.

But wait, Chopra tells us that impractical ideas are exactly what we are looking for when “brainstorming.”  You see, there are three essential qualities to a good idea: 

  1. Edge – the idea represents a new approach or solution that offers an advantage over the current state.
  2. Appeal – people must feel positive about the idea and be attracted to it in some way.
  3. Practical – the idea must live within the realm of possibility.

The problem is that good ideas rarely just pop into your head fully formed and sharing all three traits above.  After all, if an idea has edge, appeal and is practical, most likely someone has thought of it already.  In brainstorming you need to go beyond what has already been thought of or implemented. 

The only way to get to a good idea is to grow the idea over time.  It starts with the raw material, and the best material is an idea that has edge, appeal and is impractical.  The idea represents an advantage over the current state; people are naturally attracted to it, now you just need to convert it from an impractical idea to a practical idea.  

Good leaders do this by asking questions of their team.  For example, you might say, “we all know X is an impractical idea, but let’s talk about what we like about X.  If we were able to do X, how would that help us?”  This question immediately transforms people into a future state where impractical idea X is already a reality.  Now people are free to explore the many benefits of X.  And if X is a compelling idea, there will be no shortage of benefits.

After the benefits are listed, you turn to address the flaws.  Ask your team to identify the major flaws.  Get them out on the table.  The idea is to find the most important flaw, which is sometimes, but not always the biggest flaw. 

Now you’re ready to start the transformation process.  Chopra identifies two different variations on the transformation process (if you want to become an expert at this, get the book).  But the basic ideas is to pose this question; “how can we realize the benefits of impractical idea X while avoiding or eliminating major flaw Y.”  In other words, how do we retain the plusses from the idea in a more practical way?

By exploring this question with persistence, creativity and humor, you will lead your team to transform a “bad” idea into a great one.


bruins select bu’s charlie mcavoy with noIf you want cheap nfl jerseys bidders to bid in specific increments, clearly state so on the bid sheet template. In addition, there are a couple of ways in which you can identify bidders. One way is to ask them for their name and contact information on the bid sheet. He despised Judeo Christian morals as well as the Cheap Jerseys family unit and even wanted to dissolve the institution of marriage. He wanted hockey jerseys to empower women by telling them they were being oppressed by men. His ultimate goal was the creation of a Global Government based on socialistic values. Nevertheless, it never bodes well if the hopes of the season appear to be resting on a rookie wide receiver. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor should help further the skill set of quarterback Ryan Tannehill who has shown promising signs discount football jerseys that he can become a franchise quarterback. The former Eagles quarterbacks coach brings a fast paced Chip Kelly offence to a team that saw Tannehill sacked 58 times last season. Momentum also continues at Outdoor as well. Third quarter revenue was up 10% in constant dollars as the advertising marketplace continued to improve. OIBDA more than doubled year over year in the quarter as a result of both the top line growth and this business’ new streamlined cost structure. “The city of Louisville will always be in my heart,” Powell said. “You have people losing innocent lives in this. This hit home for me. Most people wholesale china jerseys get up there and they just run off and fire off with the shot and have no clue what they’re doing. The very first step in being a good bowler is learning where you’re starting in your standing position and repeating that every time and learn to make your adjustments from there. So, what I do is, for a beginner bowler, is I would find the spot on the lane, one of these dots and target my second arrow. Analysis: Forget about that six week Cheap Football Jerseys stretch that saw the New York Giants drop five of six games. Big Blue enters the postseason on the heels of two very impressive must win victories over the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. The Giants have momentum, ray ban outlet confidence and a defense that finally decided to wake up on their side as they prepare to make another run at the Vince Lombardi Trophy.. Division I is the top level of competition in the NCAA, the governing body for major college sports. Not all Division I schools maintain football programs, but those that do are divided into two subdivisions. The Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, is the big schools ones that play on national TV.

2 thoughts on “When Brainstorming, Start with the Bad Ideas

  • Sean–I love this idea and really enjoyed practicing it a year or so back at your NYC client conference. I agree that many times, the best solutions come out of the process of thinking about what “our best case” looks like. Then, figuring out how we can get their within the context of our organization (costs/legalities/etc). I also find it gives those employees who are frustrated in wanting a specific solution a chance to vent (within reason)–and out of those vents could come a very realy and viable solution. At the very least we have given them a forum for being heard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *