One of the biggest obstacles to solving problems is that others are often quick to tell you they can’t be solved. And, when you do come up with solutions, friend and colleagues often find endless ways to shoot them down. The following exercise demonstrates that there really is no such thing as a bad idea. With the right frame of mind, even bad ideas can serve as seeds for brilliant ideas.

First, come up with a problem that is relevant for the particular group. For example, if it is a group of executives in the utility business, the topic might be getting companies to save energy; if it is a theater group, the problem might be how to attract a larger audience; and if it is a group of business students, the challenge might be to come up with a cool, new business idea. Then, break the group into small teams and ask each one to come up with the BEST idea and the WORST idea for solving the stated problem. The best idea is something that each team thinks will solve the problem brilliantly. The worst idea will be ineffective, unprofitable, or will make the problem worse. Once they are done, they write each of their ideas on a separate piece of paper, one labeled BEST and one labeled WORST.

When I do this exercise, I ask participants to pass both to me, and I proceed to shred the BEST ideas. After the time they spent generating these great ideas, they are both surprised and not too happy. I then redistribute the WORST ideas. Each team now has an idea that another team thought was terrible. They are then instructed to turn this bad idea into a fabulous idea. Here is what always happens… The teams look at the horrible idea that was passed their way and quickly see that it really isn’t so bad after all. In fact, they often think it is terrific. Within a few seconds someone always says, “Hey, this is a great idea!”

When the challenge was to come up with the worst business idea, the suggestions were boundless. One group suggested selling bikinis in Antarctica, one recommended starting a restaurant that sells cockroach sushi, and one group proposed starting a heart attack museum. In each of these cases, these bad ideas were transformed into pretty interesting ideas that deserved some real consideration. For example, the group that was tasked with selling bikinis in Antarctica came up with the slogan “Bikini or Die.” Their idea was to take people who wanted to get into shape on a trip to Antarctica. By the end of the hard journey, they would be able to fit into their bikinis. The group that needed to sell cockroach sushi came up with a restaurant called La Cucaracha that made all sorts of exotic sushi using nontraditional but nutritious ingredients and targeted adventurous diners. The group given the challenge of starting a heart attack museum used this idea as the starting point for a museum devoted entirely to health and preventative medicine. All groups came up with compelling business names, slogans, and commercials for these ventures.

This exercise is a great way to open minds to solutions to problems because it demonstrates that most ideas, even if they look silly or stupid on the surface, often have at least a seed of potential. It helps to challenge the assumption that ideas are either good or bad, and demonstrates that, with the right frame of mind, you can look at most ideas or situations and find something valuable. For example, even if you don’t start the “Bikini or Die” excursion to Antarctica, this is an interesting starting point for ideas that might be more practical.

Read about Michael Michalko’s history, accomplishments and books about creative thinking which are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all major bookstores.



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