I love bad ideas. I work in branding and design, in an agency tasked week in and week out with finding creative ways to communicate. New and unique combinations of words, images, layouts, formats and colors. Ideas are king. Good ones surprise, engage, delight, or entertain the audience. Bad ones are obvious, uninspired, dull, and shallow.
Without good ideas my agency would not have made it through a single year. We certainly would not have made it through ten years of positive results and repeat business. We would have lost the trust of our clients, suffered from a portfolio that’s forgettable at best, and had no stories of past creative successes to share with prospects. Without good ideas a creative agency just will not survive.
So, why in the world would I love bad ideas?
Because bad ideas are a path to good ones. Creating new things, particularly from scratch is a daunting assignment. Coming up with ideas is hard. I learned early in my career that I would need to leverage processes, techniques, and work habits that would help me deal with the pressure of coming up with new ideas.
As I have grown and developed as a designer-turned art director-turned creative director, and moved through these roles in a variety of industries, I’ve found that the same approach applies when it comes to generating ideas. And one of the most valuable things that I have learned is to embrace bad ideas. Here’s why.
Bad ideas inspire ideas in others.
First off, bad ideas can and do trigger new thoughts, and ultimately better ideas. Let me give you an example. When solving a design or branding challenge, we dedicate wall space in the studio to that particular challenge. For the life of the project we hang project briefs, research, inspiration, sketches, examples, notes, language, and drafts up on this ever-evolving wall. At key milestones, we gather as a team and review and evolve the wall with the latest work.
One of the most important milestones is when we review initial ideas. This is after research and discovery, and before we begin design and layout. We review roughly sketched notions, or even single words, all contributed with the goal of spawning more creative thoughts to move us closer to the final solution. It’s to judge the initial ideas, and the bad ones are welcome. What one person thought of and deemed “bad” often makes another member of the team think of something else. These cross-pollinated combinations are better that the bad idea ever could have been. They are often great, but they are at least better, and they propel the team (and project) forward in new directions. Without the “bad’ idea triggering more thinking, these new directions might not ever have been discovered.
Bad ideas empower others.
Bad ideas also lead to good ones by emboldening different team members to contribute. On most teams there are varying levels of confidence and experience. As a creative leader, I am always looking to engage as many people’s brains as possible in the problem solving process. By inviting all ideas, and by having all team members contribute, no matter their experience level, we are inviting the least seasoned and the least confident to join in, without the stress of expected greatness.
We’ve found that by creating this type of fully collaborative environment, we not only enjoy the benefit of more ideas contributed from a wider, more diverse set of perspectives, we also enable the junior team members to gain confidence, thus becoming better creative problem solvers though the process. This creates a culture of creative vulnerability that benefits the entire agency and its clients.
Bad ideas break though blocks.
Lastly, bad ideas can get creativity flowing when it is stuck. We all get blocked sometimes. Maybe we have too much on our plates and are stressed out. Or we have an important project that will be highly visible and we are intimidated by the task. Inviting bad ideas is inviting ideas, and the act of creating something generally leads to creating something good. Rather than getting dejected by the blank page and the elusive, mind-blowing ideas that are not making themselves known, getting bad ideas down on paper gives us something to work with. We get out of the intimidating space of creation and into a less intimidating space of editing. This brief reprieve is a way to start a flow state that can then build on its own momentum.
Bad ideas can lead to good ones. Use them to start a process, or within your process to free minds and motivate contributors. Don’t let them out. They are for internal use only. But leverage them. Use them to get to the good ideas that surprise and delight your audience, and lead to a victory for your client.
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