Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why The Idea That “There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Idea” Is A Bad Idea

I have attended a number of meetings, brainstorming sessions, and retreats where the person leading the meeting will say, “Remember, there is no such thing as a bad idea.”

While I understand the spirit of that phrase, I’m afraid I don’t agree. The truth is, there are bad ideas out there.

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When an organization is looking for solutions to challenging problems, a little bit of disagreement, some pushing back, and some challenging of ideas can lead to creative thinking that results in better decision making. That is not just my opinion. Recent research has indicated that debate and criticism actually helps to generate more creative ideas in brainstorming groups. Check out this Harvard Business Review podcast to learn more.

There are two key things that allow critical debate to open the door to creative problem solving among groups. The first is that the debate and critical comments must not be personal. It’s OK to challenge a group member’s ideas, it’s not OK to challenge the individual. The second key element is that the group has established trust among each other that they won’t pay a price for disagreeing, on either a professional or a personal level. There has to be a balance between a healthy mistrust of ideas and a healthy trust of the people presenting the ideas.

I firmly believe that at Imagine! we have achieved that balance. One of the reasons that we have been able to stay at the leading edge of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities for 50 years is because we have never been afraid to challenge our co-workers and ourselves. We always ask, “Why?” We always push back, and accept and expect that others will push back when we have ideas. We don’t fear that push back because we know it is being done to ensure that all ideas are fully explored and thought out before moving forward.

A room with an “uncomfortable agitator” outside of Imagine! is not always received as well. But maybe a little discomfort will keep the room alive; people might ask, “What in the Sam Hill is he going on about?” A raised eyebrow never does any harm.

No one relishes the role of the person in the room who is left to question the obvious. But if it is left to me, I will. I am willing to take on the role of disruptive innovator. And I am willing to have others do the same with me. That’s when the best ideas come out. Considering all of the changes our system of funding and delivering services is facing right now, there is no better time to ask the tough questions and reject the status quo. That’s an idea I can get behind.

Then again, what do I know?

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