Everyone’s familiar with the tried and true cliche, “there are no bad ideas.” While this platitude goes a long way toward helping your team feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts, it’s not necessarily true. It takes a blind sort of optimism to believe that every idea we dream up is a winner. There will be bad ideas, some might even be yours, but they can yield unexpected results. The next time you’re brainstorming with your team, don’t hit them with a cliche. Bring on the bad ideas! They pave the way for great ones.
Maybe the “no bad ideas” philosopher was trying to do something more than put your team at ease. Not every pitch will be “the one” but what can we learn from the bad ones? In a 2017 article for Harvard Business Review, Ayse Birsel discusses the idea of “wrong thinking.” At face value, it doesn’t seem like a concept you’d want to encourage your team to pursue, but let’s take a closer look.
Put simply, wrong, or reverse thinking means starting with the worst possible idea and working your way to an ideal solution from there. It a brainstorming strategy that makes bad ideas valuable. What solution to your problem is the most ill-fitting, expensive, time-consuming, or just plain stupid? Let this bad idea serve as your baseline—one you can build on, chipping away at all the implausibilities until a good idea arises like a phoenix from the ashes.
In another article for Inc.com, Brinsel notes that by simply vocalizing all of these terrible, awful, no good, very bad ideas, you and your team can begin to challenge your biases and instincts. He suggests you take your bad idea to a level “that would almost get you fired.”
So, what does reverse thinking look like in practice? Let’s say you’re trying to find a way for your team to connect more and bond as a company. Applying our concept of reverse thinking, maybe we’d start by suggesting everyone list what they don’t like about each other (Note: Reverse thinking is about theory, not practice. Please don’t criticize your coworkers). This is obviously a terrible idea that will lead to some serious tension around the office. However, when we flip the script, think about the reverse idea, we come up with identifying the attributes we like and admire about our team. This is a pretty basic example, but then again, reverse thinking is that simple!
Encouraging bad ideas can actually bring out the best in your team members. By employing a pro bad idea policy, you could help eliminate the echo chamber a lot of teams experience—the same old ideas resurfacing as “new ones.” But why? Why spend precious brainstorming time on ideas you would never, ever use? Asking your team to come up with bad ideas forces people out of their comfort zone. It’s a tactic that will shake things up and jumpstart your team’s energy. To use another business cliche, it forces your team to “think outside the box.”
Bad ideas can even empower your team members on an individual level. Author Bob Dorf notes, “The worst idea technique can re-energize an oft-deadly innovation session in moments, causing great energy and great ideas to ﬂow. It's also about as much fun as you can have at a business meeting…” In other words, bad ideas resulting from reverse thinking can actually empower your team to be itself. This shot of coworking adrenaline might just be what your team needs to come up with your next great idea, or to simply enjoy meetings more.
A final benefit of bad ideas in brainstorming is the potential to break down barriers. There might be more profundity to the “no wrong answers” philosophy than we give it credit for. If you, as a team leader, throw out a not-so-fantastic idea, you level the playing field. Your team members are no longer in position of having to top your, or their coworkers’, good ideas. Everyone can enjoy the process of building from a foundation together.
Encouraging bad ideas and reverse thinking are just a few ways to help your team work better together and produce better results as a company. If you’re looking for more ways to inspire your team or get better at working together, invite Meddlers to your office.
Using principles of neuroscience, we’ll help you and your team align toward shared goals and engage with one another in a meaningful way. Read more about the Meddlers approach or contact us for more information.