Worst Possible Idea

by Chris Lose • in
  • June 2019
  • LD at Large
• Created: June 15, 2019

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Illustration by Andy Au

Whoever said there’s no such thing as a bad idea never owned a Ford Pinto, never watched Sharknado and never drank Crystal Pepsi.

Group brainstorming sessions can be as frustrating, as they are a waste of time when fragile egos break down the creative process. When more than one person is emotionally attached to what they believe is a good idea, they will fight to the pain for their chosen conclusion. This rarely ends up well. In this article, I want to expose you to an advancing idea called “Worst Possible Idea.” WPI is a design thinking technique where team members seek the worst solutions in ideation sessions. This inverted search process relaxes design teams, boosts their confidence and stokes their creativity. WPI allows design teams to examine the ideas, challenge assumptions and gain insights towards even greater ideas. By seeking the worst solutions and analyzing why they are the worst ideas, it becomes much easier to agree on the best ideas. Below are the top four reasons why we should abandon the process of prematurely seeking the best ideas and root through the worst ideas first.

Ego

The Worst Possible Idea method, despite its name, is possibly the most effective process to coming up with the best solutions. Brainstorming sessions are supposed to come with a “judgment free” guarantee. As human beings we are far too prone to judgmental tendencies to ever truly make this a reality. When people prematurely arrive at what they believe to be the best idea, they quickly become emotionally attached to their opinion. They can be quick to verbalize their idea only to have it shot down by the rest of the group. The idea originator would be more willing to abandon their bad idea if their ego weren’t so entangled in their conclusion.

Recently, in such a brainstorming session, we were tasked with coming up with ideas for a way to illuminate a small event with a low ceiling. There were no places to hang lighting. We had to brainstorm ways to give the client the illumination that they needed without hanging a single pipe or truss.

My first worst idea was anti-gravitational pipes that used the earth’s magnetic field to levitate lighting fixtures. Those have not been invented yet, so that was a bad idea. That next worst idea was truss filled with helium that could hold LED pars. The weight-to-helium ratio made this impossible, so this too was labeled as a bad idea. However, this led to some quick research, and we discovered that LED helium balloons put out a lot of white light for a reasonable price. We ended up specifying 2,000 white LED balloons that worked like a charm. We could illuminate the room and separate signage by raising and lowering the helium balloons. With string and tape, we could get light into any place that additional lighting was necessary. The bouquets of balloons above the dinner tables were especially effective. They illuminated the dinner guests as well as the tabletops while acting as an umbrella of light.

Repetition

Ideas come from our mind, our consciousness and our mouths. Therefore, we often take ownership of them as our property. We can forget that our property takes time to build. There are as many ways to build a house as there are ways to light a show. We forget that it takes a team of people to weed through many ideas to build something truly innovative and original.

We often default to what we know to work because it has worked in the past. This is called the Einstellung Effect. The Einstellung Effect is the development of a mechanized state of mind. Einstellung refers to a person’s predisposition to solve a given problem in a specific manner, even though better or more appropriate methods of solving the problem exist. We often default to the same solution over and over again. Since it has worked in the past, we know that it will work again.

This is why some designers fall into a rut and pump out the same design ad nauseam. They know that their solution works, it fits into this many trucks, and it costs X amount. One can make a very comfortable living applying this formula. However, doing the same thing repeatedly can get monotonous really quickly. The design process gets mundane, and problem-solving skills get dulled. Coming up with the worst possible idea first allows fresh ideas to seep into the creative process and removes the cobwebs from the rafters.

Attention to Details

Analyzing every bad idea and its badness serves to reinforce the benefits of the final good idea. It’s only after sorting through all of the bad ideas that we can absolutely agree that the good ideas are the best ideas. Scrutinizing why bad ideas are so bad helps us decipher why good ideas are superior to bad ideas. This process reinforces the validity of good ideas. I have had to resort to this process when trying to prove to a client that a more expensive good idea is better than their less expensive bad idea. I have taken the time to present the least expensive idea first in order to show them why it’s not going to work the way they want it to. Next, we will go to the second worst idea and show why it also won’t work. Once we have exhausted the bad ideas, we will eventually (hopefully) arrive at the conclusion that we need to open the purse strings and spring for the best idea.

Silliness

Purposefully coming up with ideas that would normally get you mocked or fired is a great way to break the ice and warm the crowd. People are able to relax more easily when they are deliberately throwing out the worst ideas first. Our brains are hard wired to sift through bad ideas in silence before we vocalize good ideas. When we allow ourselves the freedom to openly babble stream of consciousness ideas, the results can be hilarious.

The primary goal is for other people to agree that you have the worst idea. The worst thing that could happen is for your colleagues to think that your bad idea is a good idea. I, for one, will not be insulted if someone calls my bad idea good as opposed to my good idea bad. This nearly judgment-free method allows designers and creative people alike to blurt out ideas that can be freely dissected in a welcoming environment. Free and open discussion is not only hilarious − it’s productive.

Best Solution

By defining what is wrong with bad ideas, we can start to decipher what is right about our good ideas. Without retraining our brains to look around the corner, we will be blind to the problems that come at us from different directions. I hope this article has helped you to make the best of the worst possible scenario.

 

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