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Is there such a thing as a bad idea?

Everyone’s heard of the phrase ‘there’s no such thing as a bad idea’. Tunnel vision, a fear of hurting feelings, laziness or a lack of objectivity – these are just a few of the reasons why there have been plenty of false starts in the idea generation process. In reality, there are bad ideas. Probably more bad ones than good. Ideas that aren’t goal-orientated, that don’t meet the brief, or answer the audience’s questions, desires and demands. But how can we turn this seemingly negative truth on its head? Can bad ideas contribute to the creative process?

Be disruptive

Sue Unerman discusses the power of speaking up in an article for Campaign Live. Following BBDO’s Alex Osborn’s creation of the term ‘brainstorm’ back in the 1940s, it was widely accepted that criticism and the challenging of ideas had no place in the creative space. People were scared to be honest for fear of disrupting ‘creative flow’ and making someone feel small. Ideas generation had no structure and it was assumed that by just continuing to churn them out, whether they be terrible or not, a successful outcome would eventually be reached.

“Criticism does not deter ideas. In fact, criticism encourages it.”

Unerman, S, Campaign Live, ‘No idea is a bad idea’ is actually a bad idea

Unerman goes on to reference a study, ‘The Liberating Role of Conflict in Group Creativity’ by Charlan Nemeth, in which participants were told that debate and criticism of each other’s ideas was not only welcomed but encouraged. The results showed that by allowing debate significantly more quality ideas were generated.

How does this relate to B2B marketing? Well, it relates to any process really. Often marketers feel restricted by the specifics or technical aspects of a brief, or maybe even their own fear that an internal stakeholder or even target audiences may not welcome a whole new approach. But if you think about it – what’s so bad about diversity of thinking? Who wouldn’t want to see something that’s authentic, unique and fresh?

Switch things up

It’s the role of the marketing expert to work with others to challenge ideas, refine, refine and refine again before producing a constructive and well-substantiated response. Diversity is key, so if you’re organising a brainstorm – don’t just invite the creatives, get different specialisms involved and give them the freedom to speak their mind. This freedom will mean all energy is channelled into coming up with the best ideas, rather than supressing criticism. Admit it, we’ve all been there when a bad idea has been put on the table, but everyone bites their tongue for fear of causing offence…

That’s not to say criticism is a must, as Unerman observes, it’s more about giving people the opportunity to be critical and in turn encourage deeper thought and exploration. Bad ideas exist, they really do. So, when you’re next planning an ideas session, get a wider variety of specialisms involved, challenge and interrogate an idea and give breaking the ‘no idea is a bad idea rule’ a go. The results could be inspiring.

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