Posts tagged “bad ideas”

From ProductTank, video of The Power of Bad Ideas 

A few months back, I spoke at ProductTank SF about The Power of Bad Ideas. They’ve put the video online and I’ve also embdded it below.

Steve Portigal challenges product managers to re-think the idea-generation process by inviting in bad ideas.

In brain-storming sessions, we frequently see two surges in ideas. The first is where the low hanging fruit is identified. The second surge is where more innovative ideas are frequently found. Welcoming bad ideas can be an effective strategy for fast tracking past the low hanging fruit and into innovation.

Steve’s interactive talk encourages product managers to come up with the worst product ideas possible. Not the ideas that are just not that good, but ones that are really, truly terrible. By starting with a bad idea, Steve opens a safe, creative space for ideas sharing. He helps product people to unpack what is good and bad, why and who gets to decide. He encourages us to step away from the binary of good and bad to move around the problem space in a different way. His bad ideas approach also breaks the idea-generation ice – by starting with something terrible, space is opened for all ideas, allowing creativity to flow.

Five Questions with Steve Portigal

This Friday I’ll be speaking at 18F in DC about The Power of Bad Ideas. The talk will be streamed here.

In advance of the talk, I answered a few questions about working with clients and planning research projects. Here’s a snippet; more at the 18F site.

SP: I’m intrigued by the user-centered theater — that is to say, people who have a design goal or a strategic need or a hunger for some insights, but who aren’t open to collaborating on how to accomplish that.

You often see this with projects where a client wants to understand something enormously complex and nuanced, and they don’t have any budget or time to do so. This is a big red flag. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile having a conversation to see if they [potential client] are open to feedback on their situation and on alternative ways to work.

In some cases, I’m pleasantly surprised; in many cases, though, I’m usually happy to pass on these projects. The kicker is that many of these folks have often already defined the method they want to use to reach their stated goal. It’s foolhardy to try to help people who have set you up to fail.

Bad Idea: Let’s Eat At McDonald’s

Great stuff about bad ideas in this post from Jon Bell. First, an everyday application

…when we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s.

An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge.

It’s as if we’ve broken the ice with the worst possible idea, and now that the discussion has started, people suddenly get very creative.

Then he applies this principle to creative work.

I call it the McDonald’s Theory: people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones.

The next time a project is being discussed in its early stages, grab a marker, go to the board, and throw something up there. The idea will probably be stupid, but that’s good! McDonald’s Theory teaches us that it will trigger the group into action…Say, “This is probably crazy, but what if we.-“

The article is short and direct and makes the point so well. This is an area I’ve been exploring over the past year or so (see article on Core77 here and slide deck from SXSW here) and it’s great to see others doing so as well.

Vote for Steve’s SXSW proposal: “The Power of Bad Ideas”

I’ve got a proposal in for next year’s SXSW conference. The talk I’m planning to do is entitled “The Power of Bad Ideas”

In business and in life, we pursue the good stuff and champion people who are known for their good ideas. But when we place too strong an emphasis on just the good, we may neglect to consider the bad ones. In design and in brainstorming, deliberately seeking out bad ideas is a powerful way to unlock creativity. Generating bad ideas can reveal our assumptions about the difference between bad and good, and often seemingly bad ideas turn out to be good ones. Jotly and Cow Clicker were jokes/parodies (e.g., not good ideas) that have been surprisingly successful. Neil Young and Crazy Horse have covered folk songs. An action blockbuster features a US president swinging a silver axe against vampires. In this talk, I’ll explore how opening up the bad idea valve can lead unexpectedly to the kind of success we aim for with our good ideas.

This talk picks up where my Core77 article and some recent blog posts (here, here) left off. I’m looking forward to developing the material further and talking it through live.

Part of the consideration that SXSW uses in sorting out their 3200 proposals is voting. I’d really appreciate your help: check out the page for the talk, add any comments, questions, or words of encouragement, and vote “thumbs up” (you’ll have to sign in or create an account if you don’t have one).

Thanks for your help!

Parody or for-reals? More bad ideas becoming good ones

Neil Young has had an amazing career where musically speaking he’s done just about everything: doo-wop/rockabilly, electro-synth, experimental feedback noise, rock opera, and more.

Rock music (or any media) lends itself to parody, of course. Neil himself has been lovingly lampooned by Jimmy Fallon over the past few years, as Jimmy plays Harvest-era Neil singing some unlikely songs (here, here, here). The collision between artist and material is an easy (and hilarious) one; here’s an SNL classic, Kiddie Metal

But now we have Americana, Neil Young’s latest album. With Crazy Horse (his grungiest of bands), he’s covered old old folk songs, including Oh Susannah, Clementine, She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain, and This Land Is Your Land.

Just to be annoying, Neil’s also got a 40-minute silent film to promote the album. He was interviewed on Fresh Air this week, as well.

Of course, there’s no objective measure of this as a “good idea” or a “bad idea” (and for Neil Young, it’s definitely not album sales). But despite my initial grouchy skepticism (that’s gonna suck!) about the concept, I did have “whoah” and “oh wow” smiles when I first heard any of it. So I’m voting good idea for the result, but what an awesome bad idea in the creative process.

Also see Ideas so Bad, They’re Good and my recent Core77 piece The power of Bad Ideas.

Ideas so Bad, They’re Good

In Appsurd: In Silicon Valley, It’s Hard to Make a Joke, bad ideas become successes.

When Mr. Cornell crafted Jotly as a joke, he says, he tried well-known start-up tricks to make it convincing, like using the color blue and giving it a name ending in “ly.” Other important elements, he says, included assuming everybody wants to share everything they do with everyone, and having “no clear purpose.” He was surprised at the positive response to the idea. “One of our programmers said it would be fun to make, so we decided to crush it out,” he says.

While the creative (and other) excesses of Silicon Valley culture are wonderful media fodder, this article goes quite nicely with my recent Core77 piece The power of Bad Ideas. What we initially frame as bad can – especially as we understand more deeply the measures we should be using – emerge as good.

Steve’s “The Power of Bad Ideas” published on Core77

Core77 has published my latest column, The Power of Bad Ideas

Bad ideas are not boring, meh proposals. Bad is not the absence of good. These ideas should go beyond provoking “That’s stupid!” to eliciting a much stronger response. Bad ideas might be immoral, dangerous to the user or bad for the business itself. In one session I led, a team proudly showed me their sketches of homeless people packed onto trains and shipped away from the downtown core they were trying to improve. At the time, I reacted to the general lack of humaneness in the idea and saw that as visceral proof point of how they were challenging boundaries. It wasn’t until much much later that I appreciated the horrific evocation of the Holocaust. In this writing, and perhaps in the reading, in the cold pixels of this piece, this feels grotesque. That’s because in reflecting here we are outside the environment of ideation. Within the context of the brainstorm, we have a “safe place” where exploring what’s possible without judgment is crucial.

Check out the full piece on Core77.


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