Fertilizer

I often hear people who think they understand creativity say things like, "There's no such thing as a bad idea."

Are they kidding?

There are bad ideas all around us. There are horrible ideas that stay ideas, never making it out of the concept realm to be executed, thank heaven. Lousy ideas also come to fruition that at best never have a chance at succeeding and at worst put companies out of business.

i have no problem with bad ideas in the conceptual stage. In fact, I think they're a healthy part of the creative process.

Let me tell you why.

I often hear people refer to bad ideas as crap, and that's the polite word. Actually, I think that description is pretty close, but I like to use a more constructive term: fertilizer.

Fertilizer helps things grow.

When people generate tons of ideas using 100 MPH Thinking, believe me, they are not all great ideas. In fact, most of the time a very small percentage are decent ideas, and an even smaller proportion are actually good ideas. But the other ideas act as fertilizer.

When I'm facilitating a group brainstorming session (see page 206), I can often look across a large room at many teams ideating, and from a distance I can tell you which groups have the best ideas. It's the groups with the most ideas. oh, sure, they also have the most bad ideas, but that means they have more fertilizer.

Often, when running a workshop or brainstorming session, I offer a prize to the team that generates the most ideas. Offering a prize as an incentive often gets the competitive juices flowing. "The prize," I tell

How to Get Over Your F-F-F-ear of F-F-F-ailure

the groups, "is an Automatic Idea Generator." Sometimes I get sideways looks.

When all is said and done and we tally the quantitative output of each team, the team with the greatest number of ideas wins the prize. My Automatic Idea Generator? I pull it out of my pocket. It's a garbage bag. The message? If you can fill this, you'll have lots of ideas.

You see, there's a positive correlation between fertilizer and a bountiful harvest of ideas. The best films always have miles of footage on the cutting room floor. The best CDs have music you've never heard. The best books have chapters you've never read and characters you've never met. The best ad makers have dozens, if not hundreds, of tissues littering their floors. Many of these outtakes wind up in the garbage. All served as fertilizer.

I pulled this little prank when working with ad agency GSD&M in Austin, Texas, a few years ago. When I went back to their offices later in the day, large, galvanized trash barrels dotted the floor space. Seems the agency's president, Roy Spence, liked the garbage metaphor so well he wanted to encourage his people to throw away bad, even just decent, ideas in the pursuit of great ideas.

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