Think of your worst idea for a new business.
One that has absolutely no merit, is over-the-top ridiculous, and would get you laughed out of any pitch meeting you managed to sneak your way into. Maybe it's a social network for your imaginary friends or a bacon alarm clock.
Chances are, you've got a few of these ideas. And once they start flowing, they don't stop.
Now: Think of a business idea that's guaranteed to succeed. One that's perfectly formulated, has a clear market potential, and will make you and your investors billionaires in the next few years.
Got one? No, not yet?
It's no surprise that good ideas are harder to come by than terrible ones
The above exercise is one University of Toronto professor Jennifer Riel runs with her business school students every semester:
"Many of us are in search of the elusive good idea - that brilliant stroke of insight that can create value, kick-start a career, and even change the world."
"The thing is, good ideas can be awfully hard to come by. They are difficult to produce on demand and challenging to recognize on sight. Bad ideas, by contrast, seem to be in endless supply."
Coming up with an endless supply of ideas--both good and bad--is an essential part of the creative process and a precursor to our success.
Entrepreneur and investor James Altucher calls ideas "the currency of life", while Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling exclaimed that "the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."
Bad ideas are a launching point
You bad ideas might be bad. But that doesn't mean they can't help inspire better ones.
When Dilbert creator and author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams worked in the TV industry he describes a techniques other writers he worked with used called "the bad version".
"For example, if your character is stuck on an island, the bad version of his escape might involve monkeys crafting a helicopter out of palm fronds and coconuts. That story idea is obviously bad, but it might stimulate you to think in terms of other engineering solutions, or other monkey-related solutions.
"The first step in thinking of an idea that will work is to stop fixating on ideas that won't. The bad version of an idea moves your mind to a new vantage point."
But they can also have some good in them
More than just a kicking off point, your bad ideas might also have some good in them. You just haven't discovered it yet.
One example Professor Riel uses to illustrate this is the square watermelon.
At first, it seems absurd to go through all that effort just to change the shape of a fruit. But, oval watermelons are hard to ship, hard to store neatly, and definitely more difficult to cut. A square watermelon, by all accounts, fixes those issues and can be created rather simply by growing the fruit in a box.
"We need to reframe bad ideas. They are valuable and even essential. This, ultimately, is the point of the exercise... We begin by brainstorming bad ideas and then take one of those bad ideas and explore how it might, in actuality, be a truly good idea."