“I don’t want any bad ideas,” a client said. At that precise moment, a number of thoughts collided in my head! Is there such a thing as a “bad idea?” “Of course there is!” “Really?” Well, after some reflection, let me explain why I think there is “no such thing as a bad idea.”

An idea is where a problem and solution overlap
An idea is where a problem and solution overlap

A bad idea is something that has no use; it has no value to anyone, no one at all. Now I accept that not every idea will help to solve the problem at hand, but when you stop to think about it, there is a use to every idea, no matter how “bad” it is.

Theory warning! An idea is a coming together of a problem and a solution. At the overlap, boom – an idea is born!

When you next get a “bad idea”, here is a short overview of the different types and the actions drive out value.

1. Real problem, bad solution

I often see ideas kicked out too quickly. Most ideas that are thought to be “bad” are judged on the solution they suggest. If the solution is not good, then the idea is quickly judged as “bad”. However, most ideas raise legitimate problems that should not be ignored. Management should not ignore these problems, as they often do not know they exist, or do not experience the impact the problems have.

ACTION: Always look at the root of an idea; does it raising a legitimate problem that you should do something about?

2. Ideas looking for a problem to solve

Somebody has come up with an idea and trying to find a problem that it solves. Think Dragon’s Den or Shark’s Pit. Rather than focusing on the idea, look at the innovative behaviour of the ideator. They have taken time to come up with ideas, they are having ideas, but they need some support or direction on how to use their creativity.

ACTION: Look at the individual instead of the idea and how to use their creativity by focusing it on where you need it.

3. Ideas that seem irrelevant and completely off-topic

When you ask for ideas from people, some ideas seem to come from left-field or are completely off-topic. There are two options at hand; ignore the surprise idea or look closer at the idea. Surprise ideas can be seen as a positive protest and they should be listened to. If ignored, it could disenchant the very people that are trying to help the organisation and improve it.

ACTION: Acknowledge the surprise ideas and their givers, ensuring the issues raised are on your radar.

4. Ideas that focus on a problem that does not need solving or has already been solved

The final category of “bad ideas” are those that suggest improvements to an area that are not needed or where problems have already been solved. This suggests one of two things (or both), a training need or a communication breakdown. Either the idea giver needs training on the correct operation or the known solutions have not been communicated (or heard) by all those that need to know.

ACTION: Communicate the solutions and/or put in place appropriate training for the idea giver.

Not every idea will solve your key problems, but all ideas can be useful to the organisation. Therefore, there is no such thing as a bad idea.