How to Respond to a Bad Idea

The best response to a bad idea is to make it better.

When I work with people from government agencies, and also those from many large corporations, they often talk about their risk-averse culture. One of the problems with risk aversion is that if someone tries out a new idea and it doesn’t work, they are punished. This leads to fewer and fewer people introducing new ideas, because the risk seems too high.

The other affect is that the people that do have good ideas will leave, and go work for organisations that are more open to new ideas.

These are big problems.

The best response to an idea that doesn’t work isn’t to punish whoever came up with it. This stifles change and growth. Here is how Kevin Kelly puts it in his new book What Technology Wants:

However, the proper response to a lousy idea is not to stop thinking. It is to come up with a better idea. Indeed, we should prefer a bad idea to no ideas at all, because a bad idea can at least be reformed, while not thinking offers no hope.

Here’s the question to ask: do our systems encourage people to build on (reform) bad ideas, or do they encourage people to stifle new ideas?

You’ll only have innovation if you are able to use bad ideas as building blocks for new, better ideas.

Note: As John noted at the end of his last post, there was substantial flooding in Brisbane last week. We’ve both been very fortunate in the floods, but many people have lost their homes or businesses. If you’re interested in contributing to flood relief in Queensland, the Premier’s Flood Appeal is probably the best bet. And the floods in Brazil are even worse – if you want to support people hit by those, Plan is a good organisation.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

5 thoughts on “How to Respond to a Bad Idea

  1. I loved this post because it encourages us to look at bad ideas from a different perspective. However, having said that, it’s a good “idea” to have some criteria and distinguish those which are worth pursuing from those which are not. We have to be able to tell people in a constructive way that their idea might not be useful at this time. Explain to them why and let them know you appreciate their input without judging them.
    It absolutely fosters creativity with less risk if we see ideas as the kernel of the creative, brainstorming process. I do see a shift going on, where people are forming tribes or incubation labs around projects and new ideas that have less risk and everyone participates and works together. The mission is not one of control but collaboration and trust. The farther you get away from the corporate mentality, the more you will see this occurring.
    It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur and usher in new ways of doing business in a safe, nurturing environment that is fertile ground for empowering people to build something together. Ideas are the beginning of innovation, bringing great minds together to reshape, reframe, collaborate and create value in the world.

  2. I definitely agree with your points Jan. One of the issues that we have consistently talked about here is the importance of idea selection – that you can’t have an effective innovation process if you aren’t good at picking which ideas to pursue.

Comments are closed.