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May 25, 2016, by The Ingenuity Lab

Even bad ideas can be helpful

Written by Paul Kirkham, Researcher in the field of Entrepreneurial Creativity at the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Nottingham University Business School

Not all ideas are good

Some are thoroughly daft. But even the silly ones can prove worthwhile, if only by helping to shape a vastly superior alternative.
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This is because most people don’t just miraculously come out with a bona fide “great idea”. That’s not how creativity works. Instead they might have a bit of a good idea, which, combined with part of another bit of a good idea and an improvement to someone else’s bad idea and a reaction to yet another’s idiotic idea, forms the beginnings of a feasible idea.

It’s only after this potential idea has been honed and examined that we can start to say it might be a “great idea”. So first we need to learn to have lots of ideas; and then we need to learn to be willing to throw away most of them and see the rest change – sometimes significantly.

Accepting that most of our ideas won’t make the cut means not prizing them too highly. We have to acknowledge that there’s always room for improvement and that the true waste doesn’t lie in exploring novel concepts that might just lead nowhere: it lies in deterring novel concepts in the first place.


It’s not rocket science – and it’s not magic either

A leading thinker of recent vintage, Paul Lutus, who designed equipment for NASA missions before writing some of the most important programs in the history of personal computing, has argued that there are “idea producers” and “idea consumers”. He once said of the latter: “The central organising principle of this class is that ideas come from somewhere else – from magical persons, geniuses, ‘them’.”

A key lesson for the management of any organisation is that the more it encourages “idea producers” – and, by extension, the less it unwittingly cultivates “idea consumers” – the more likely it is to achieve success through innovation.

Ultimately, every organisation has the choice of nurturing ideas or stifling them. We can stand on the shoulders of giants or spend our time anxiously glancing back over our own. Why would anyone choose the latter? As Newton lamented: “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies – but not the madness of people”.

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Posted in MentorsThe Ingenuity Lab