Myth #1 “All ideas are good – there is no such thing as a bad idea”

There are several problems with this myth, one of my Top 10 Myths of Idea Management, based on my work at Imaginatik. And it is one of the most common in the field of creativity and innovation.

1) Some ideas are actually bad – they may be illegal, amoral, create liability for the company (for example FDA compliance), divulge confidential information, or provoke harassment or disruption. Now, depending on the system, this does not happen very often, but it can happen. At Imaginatik, we built a special feature set just for regulated industries (pharmaceuticals, healthcare, banking, etc) in 2008 – now part of the core product – to handle content that might not be appropriate for an internal audience.

2) Seeding a new program or idea gathering event with poor quality ideas can wreck a program – we have found that no one wants to be first with a submission to a program, and therefore best practice is to seed a program or time-limited event with sample ideas. These ideas become reference ideas and if they are not of sufficiently high quality, the next submitters are significantly more likely to put in poor quality ideas.

3) Duplicate ideas cause a bunch of problems – idea duplicates clog up an evaluation process, create mistrust amongst contributors (especially if there are rewards at stake), and result in a sub-optimized idea harvesting process. There is some merit in encouraging all submissions, with the general view that people should feel engaged in a program, but duplicates are not ‘good’ ideas and so should be limited.
4) Innovation is about implementing the best ideas – not just about generating ideas – this is at the heart of the difference between ideation and innovation. Innovation is the process of doing new things that deliver value. The idea generation process is a critical component of innovation, but all too often there is not enough realism as to what will happen next to ideas. Research has shown conclusively that idea gathering on focused business topics, narrowed further by time scope, generate 30-fold more high quality, high impact ideas that get implemented that any form of open system (see Imaginatik Research white paper). The fundamental reason behind this is that ideas are most likely to be implemented when there is someone waiting – with budget and a sense of urgency – to collect and do something with the best input. Collecting any idea, wide open, makes the evaluation process significantly hard (who, for instance, will evaluate an idea), and make it less likely that ideas will be processed within a normal business cycle.

Therefore be wary of advocated of ‘all ideas are good’ – they are probably overly focused on the idea generation phase, and do not have responsibility – or a care – for the hard part of what will happen next.

For more myth busting, see the Top 10 Myths of Idea Management.

One Response to “Myth #1 “All ideas are good – there is no such thing as a bad idea””

  1. Mark – You mean there’s more to innovation than just the front end? Say it ain’t so! 😉

    Great points, and certainly hope that people keep these things in mind. Also useful, for those tracking metrics of idea management or innovation management systems, to be sure to acknowledge that not everyone will be an active “idea generator” but may be better at filtering, refining, modifying, judging – which is as, and perhaps more, important than the raw idea generation/ideation at the front.

    To your closing point, idea generation is nothing, it’s taking those ideas and doing something with them that’s where the real work begins.

    Hope to see you next week at the user conference.


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