I have a lot of ideas — and most of them, frankly, are bad. But having bad ideas is OK — as long as you develop a filter to decide which ideas are worth working on, and which ideas should move to the scrapheap.
I know I’m not along in having bad ideas. I read a story recently about Dr. Seuss, and learned that he was full of bad ideas, too!
In 1939, at the age of thirty-five, Theodor Seuss Geisel was tinkering with an invention that was doomed to failure. Geisel had published a few books under the name Dr. Seuss, but he was hoping that a device he had patented, the Infantograph, would be a money-maker at the techno-utopian New York World’s Fair, which was opening that year. “If you were to marry the person you are with,” the banner that Geisel designed for his pavilion asked, “what would your children look like? Come in and have your INFANTOGRAPH taken!” In the tent, a couple would sit side by side; a double-lensed camera would blend their features together, then plop a composite mug shot atop an image of a baby’s body. “It was a wonderful idea,” Geisel insisted, but, as a feat of engineering, it was more of an evocation of outlandish, off-kilter Seussian machinery than it was a functional prototype. After much fiddling, he scrapped his plans, admitting, “All the babies tended to look like William Randolph Hearst.”
Knowing when to kill your bad ideas is crucial. I run a lot of my ideas through the Shower Test to see if they’re sticky enough. But I’ve also started doing a new thing: Writing my bad ideas down in what I’ve been calling my Bad Idea Notebook.
The Bad Idea Notebook is what it sounds like: a small notebook full of truly terrible ideas. There are ideas for products, for TV shows, and startups in there — all ideas worthy of the scrap heap. Every time I have a quarter-baked idea , it goes into the Bad Idea Notebook.
And sometimes, when I get really excited about an idea, I’ll pop open that notebook and scroll through my list of terrible ideas. It’s a reminder for me: Yes, Dan, you’re excited about this idea right now — but just remember, 70 percent of your ideas are truly terrible. Give it some time, mull over the idea a bit. Think through what it would really take — time, team, money, work — to put this idea into motion.
Often, a few minutes later, having started to think more clearly through things, I’ll realize a few flaws in the idea — and pop open my Bad Idea Notebook to add a new entry. I have lots of ideas, and lots of work already in the mix. The next idea — a better one, often — typically comes around soon enough.
That photo comes via Unsplash and AP x 90.