Don’t shoot down a bad idea!

I was recently reading Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull the president of Pixar and Disney Animation studios. One of the interesting parts that stuck with me from the book was the idea of how every great idea starts as a bad idea.

Ed calls it “The ugly baby”. The ugly baby is your idea in its first early days. This is the same for every film made by Pixar and Disney. They all started as bad ideas, but it took lots of iterations and effort to clean up and experiment with each idea till it grows up into something beautiful.

People usually see the final state of the idea and think that this is how it started. So they keep trying to come up with their own great ideas, but end up having many bad ideas that would have turned into something better if given a chance.

A single bad idea can turn into something better if we give it more time, and effort to make it better.

When I understood that, I started to see it happening in every meeting I attend where ideas are discussed. Someone comes up with an idea that might seem silly, or impractical. Someone else suggests a modification, then another person suggest another modification. The final result is usually something that’s very different from the original idea, but still you can see part of the original idea there.

This made me think that in any meeting or discussion, I shouldn't shoot an idea down if my first impression is that it’s bad. What I should do instead is to suggest a modification. My suggestion should be an invitation to the rest that they must think about this idea in a different way, and start suggesting their own modifications to the idea.

This way we end up with a good idea that would have been killed in its first few minutes. The minutes when it’s most fragile and weak.

Yes, not all ideas will survive even after many iterations, but investing the time should assure us that we didn’t miss out on a good one, or maybe will inspire us come with a totally new idea.

And be sure, if you’re one of the most powerful people in the room, and you shoot an idea down, you are actually responsible of the lack of good ideas generated. Because you kill ideas in their early minutes, and send indirect message to people to keep their ideas to themselves.