The Creative Myth: There Are No Bad Ideas

Yes, I know you’re heard it a thousand times – and even I’ve said it before: “There are no bad ideas.” But the truth is, there are ridiculous ideas out there, rotten to the core ideas – ideas that are destructive, crazy, and inappropriate. But we also need to understand that in the early stages of creativity, we shouldn’t clamp down the filters that keep those ideas out.

I’ve worked with creative teams that had so much structure and caution, they kept out good ideas with the bad. Remember the story Jesus told in Matthew 13:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”

When it comes to creativity, ideas are very similar. Along with the best ideas, come some weeds – some really terrible ideas. But if we clamp down too early on the bad ideas, we block the great ideas from becoming fully realized.

So never forget there are terrible ideas out there, and if your team is truly creative, you’ll hear plenty. But be open to those bad ideas and allow them through in the early stages of your creative thinking.

Otherwise, you’ll get no decent ideas at all.

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  1. I don’t so much struggle killing the bad or mediocre ideas, but I do struggle with killing good ideas, in order to replace them with great ideas.

    When I plan the stories in my novels, I accept that 90 percent of my ideas, plot directions, character choices and so on will range from rubbish to mediocre at best. Generally I think I do a decent job of cutting through all the lead to find the gems that will result in a good, coherent, workable narrative.

    However, even if I get a good idea, it doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a better idea. My most successful novel to date, Children of the Folded Valley, had three entirely different endings, all of them good in their own way, before I finally realised that by allowing a supporting character to live instead of die, I created an ending which, in my mind, went from good to great.

    1. That’s a great point Simon, and well said. I assume that out of 10 ideas of mine, 5 will be trash, 2 or 3 will be pretty good, and maybe 1 or 2 will actually work. But a great idea? That’s only after I work pretty hard to take the 1 or 2 working ideas to the next level… 🙂

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