Finding small breakthroughs in bad ideas

When we’re sick and tired of the drawing board, it can be tempting to tell ourselves that all the good ideas have been taken. As far as scapegoats go, it’s a strong one – or it would be, if it were true.

While it’s fair to say that niches can be oversaturated and innovation can be difficult, the truth is that there is no such thing as a perfect idea. There is nothing that can’t be improved, somewhere or somehow, no matter how much time or money has been spent workshopping the concept.

That’s why, instead of deciding that there’s no possible way to make a contribution, you should instead embrace your bad ideas and identify the small breakthroughs that come with them.

Imagine your favourite novel. Do you think that, within that novel, you could find a single sentence to rewrite that would make it better? How about a whole paragraph?

It’s easy to say no – after all, the book was likely written by a professional author, edited by a professional editor, and proofed and re-proofed several times before being published. But then again, nothing is perfect. Given enough time, a different perspective, or one of a host of many other parameters, you could probably find a sentence in that book that you could improve.

This is innovation in its rawest form – the reason being that it’s much easier to tweak something than it is to make something new. In fact, most ideas that solve a new problem are usually a combination of existing ideas – many of which might seem bad to begin with on their own.

By focusing on the lessons that bad ideas teach us, we use them as stepping stones to find our path towards the outcomes we’re seeking. There are several ways to help us do this.

Think of ideas as strategies, not solutions: Reframe the idea in your mind as your current, best strategy for dealing with a problem. The next iteration might be drastic or barely noticeable – but never final.

Resist the urge to reset: The next time you run into an issue that seems like the death of your idea, challenge yourself to push just a little further than you normally would. Even if you can’t find a solution, you might find an adjacent thought worth your time.

Watch and Listen: A so-called final decision should not turn you deaf and blind to the alternatives. The information that comes along after a decision could result in the next great version of your idea – but only if you keep your ears open.

Of course, in business, we often don’t have the time to make a bad idea good. Big, established companies are obsessive in their pursuit of finding good ideas to develop, and will quickly abandon what is deemed as a bad idea in order to save on resources. However, entrepreneurs often approach ideas and initiatives differently. They’re more willing to work the problem, often for much longer than a large company would find acceptable.

By seeing bad ideas not as a waste of time, but instead as a tool for discovering greater opportunities and learning important lessons, you might just find that small breakthrough that leads to your next great idea.