No Bad Ideas

By Emily Knight

So… I have tough news. It turns out that you may be the problem, not your ideas.

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Dragon's Den. The show has the odd success story but more often than not, the pitches can not make it past the Dragons' high standards. These unlucky entrepreneurs have one thing in common, an unwavering dedication to their idea or business, throwing everything on the line to make it happen despite endless obstacles and criticism.

Watching the show, I began to wonder if these people ALL had bad ideas? Maybe instead it had something to do with the intense singular focus that many of them shared, leaving them blind to the pivots and tweaks they could have made along the way to make the idea, or at least part of the idea, great. Jessica Day's article, "Is There Such a Thing As a Bad Idea In Innovation" offers an interesting perspective about bad ideas.

She suggests that the ideas themselves are not the problem, with the flaw coming instead, from the lenses ideators see through.

As humans, we base our thinking and actions on the sum of our life experiences. This means that when we see a problem and come up with a solution, we are using a relatively small batch of personal reference points, and more importantly, basing everything on a million assumptions. The problems are real, but your lens may be causing a whole wack of distortions. Whether it is seeing the problem as larger than it really is, not seeing the real root of the problem, or not realizing that people simply don't care to solve it; our human and distorted lenses can result in many entrepreneurs running in circles.

So how can we remove our flawed lenses and find the true value hidden within our ideas?

The cure is to see through the lenses of as many people as possible who are NOT YOU. Get out of your office, off your couch or out of your classroom and start talking to people who may have experienced the problem. Don't keep your idea to yourself, but rather be genuinely interested in people's stories and experiences. Justin Wilcox from The Innovation Center outlines how to ask genuinely curious questions and avoid "pitching" or biasing a conversation.

Take the cucumber saver, a classic failed pitch from Dragons Den. The founder clearly had experienced this problem personally and had likely heard from others that they had fallen victim to the dreaded dried-out-half-cucumber-problem. Due to the founder's flawed lens, the wrong questions were likely used to validate the idea: "do your cucumbers go bad?", leading to yeses without substance or, "would you use a product that helped your cucumbers keep longer?", leading to empty promises.

Where might the cucumber saver be today if the founder had instead asked, "tell me about a time food went to waste in your home", and "how are you currently dealing with this problem?"...

So yes, it turns out that you are the problem, but through my eyes this is great news! It means that we can spend less time waiting for lightbulb moments and more time exploring and discovering, ultimately expanding the scope of our lenses. Who knows, maybe you will discover that the lightbulb was right in front of you all along.