When Bad Ideas are Good

“No, that’ll never work.”

This phrase–or one like it–tends to pop into our heads when we’re staring at an empty pad of paper, brainstorming ideas for a project. Or sitting in a meeting with a roomful of creatives. Maybe the idea’s a little off. Or maybe it’s just flat-out nonsense. Whatever the reason, something tells us to keep that idea to ourselves. And that’s where the problem begins.

Fear and the risk of embarrassment restrict us from writing something down–or sharing it in a brainstorming session. The trouble is, ignoring a bad idea can make it a bigger obstacle than it was in the first place. It starts with one idea, but quickly snowballs into more. And before you know it, you have a brain full of ideas that you’re pretending don’t exist. That doesn’t leave much room for the really cool ideas to get through.

It’s like trying to get closer to the stage at a concert. You might get all the way up to the stage–or you might step on some big guy’s foot. Good ideas might make their way to your pad of paper, but it would be a whole lot easier if they didn’t have to squeeze past a crowd of bad ones.

The solution is simple: Write all of your ideas down!

Here are three reasons why writing down your bad ideas can help you in the creative process:

  • Sometimes your bad ideas want to be acknowledged. Putting them down on paper can get them out of your head–and out of your way. Getting to that stage is a whole lot easier when you acknowledge people and ask them nicely if you can squeeze by. While it can feel weird–or even embarrassing–to write down ideas you don’t like, it eliminates them and makes room for stronger ones.
  • Your bad ideas can make you think of something else when you review them later. By writing down a bad idea, it becomes a stimulus–when you look at it, it might make you think of something else. And that might just lead you to a great idea.
  • Bad ideas may still have usable parts. Think about that big guy who blocked your path at the concert. It might seem like he’s just a roadblock, but he could potentially block for you and get you all the way to the stage. After all, he probably wants to get there, too.

Whether we like it or not, good and bad ideas are both part of our creative processes. Sometimes you have to humor the bad ideas so you can get to the really good ones. There’s no benefit to leaving bad ideas floating in your brain. But there certainly is a huge downside.

Why do we refuse to acknowledge bad ideas? It stems from a misplaced expectation of perfection. But nobody has solely good ideas; every person who’s ever lived has had bad ideas. We’re imperfect people. Imperfect thinkers, problem solvers, and righters … uh, writers. So why should we expect anything different from our creative process?

If you hope to attain anything close to perfection in the end, you need to utilize the imperfections along the way. Especially when your goal is that one, big amazing idea.

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