Why Bad Ideas Lead to Originality

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of media screaming for your attention?

Scrolling through your feed on the way to work, popping up in the corner of your browser window- something is always asking you to listen to this right now! 

That’s why a good concept simply isn’t enough. If your business wants to get noticed, only true originality will disrupt the daily lives of your audience to leave a lasting impression.

But producing a show stopping concept is stressful. And genuine originality is nearly impossible when you’re already drowning in the pressure to perform.

In April, the band OK Go took the TED stage to discuss their creative process and how they continually produce wildly original music videos under pressure.A man floats in air in a zero gravity plane, surrounded by colorful items.

They echo what many of the most original minds have said for centuries – they try out a ton of bad ideas. For example, while preparing for their elaborately coordinated zero-gravity video, they “rented [NASA’s] plane for a week and saw what happened” says frontman, Damian Kulash

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have access to a zero-gravity plane. But even with our feet on the ground, we can use our  bad ideas to spark genuine originality.

So, what is the difference between a bad idea and a good idea?

From Kulash’s perspective, it’s a matter of perception meeting reality. Good ideas deliver a fresh perspective, reliably. Good ideas are surprising, but they can be repeated. They can be shared and copied with the same result. A good idea perfectly blends the novelty of originality with pragmatic reliability.

By contrast, bad ideas are stale or unreliable. They bring nothing original to the table; in fact, they’re so reliably crusty that they’re boring. Or, they’re flashy and exciting! But so impractical that they can’t be executed in reality. Bad ideas can’t be repeated the same way twice, or shared with the same result. A bad idea bores its audience and promises what it can’t deliver.

The great obstacle of originality is locating the good idea.

Kulash chuckles when he describes his teenage years, and the hours he spent looking for patterns in the kaleidoscope of posters on his wall. The search for a good idea can feel equally disorienting. And the pressure to perform only makes this process more challenging, by forcing our attention towards reliable ideas that have succeeded in the past. Ideas that won’t offend an audience, that aren’t too “out there”. Unoriginal ideas. Bad ideas.

But by accepting the bad ideas, we can accept the imperfect process of ideation.

Ideation is the process of producing ideas. It is the simple difference between producing something and producing nothing. Even Yoda knew the importance of ideation when he said, “do or not do, there is no try”. Accepting bad ideas as a normal part of the process of ideation relieves the pressure of finding “the one” – that mythical stroke of genius. Once bad ideas are allowed, all ideas are allowed! Accepting bad ideas will remove the lens of self-judgment which so often inhibits creativity. And as the barriers to creativity evaporate, you may discover avenues of thought not previously considered.

The band OK Go stands between yellow poles. This is the key; to just create.

Good, bad, or ugly, allowing for the process of ideation produces what Kulash refers to as a “sandbox of ideas”. For OK Go this could mean a literal adult-sized sand box! For the rest of us, this means a collection of ideas. Rather than staring at a blank page hoping for originality to materialize, the process of just creating produces a pile of interesting thoughts to sift through and examine.

Now you can put your judgement glasses back on…

…and consider which ideas in your sand box are both new, and reliable. Test your ideas out. Try them on and see how they fit. Blast paint out of a cannon until you get the timing right. Whatever your business’s end objective, hold your ideas up to that metric and see if they measure up…then pick the idea that does.

By choosing from a sandbox of full of bad ideas, we allow the original ideas to be found, rather than forced.

Trying to force a great idea restricts the creative process by only focusing on one direction of thought – the good idea. But allowing ourselves to explore new and unreliable ideas can lead to the discovery of wildly original concepts. By accepting bad ideas as a part of the creative process, we allow ourselves to produce as many ideas as possible and create the ideal environment to stumble upon our own piece of genius. “When that piece clicks” Kulash echoed, “it doesn’t feel like you thought up that piece of the puzzle…it feels like you found it”.

Check out OK Go’s TED talk below, and give yourself permission to have a few bad ideas today… it just might catapult your business towards attention-grabbing originality!