Encourage bad ideas

If you want to be a bad product manager, immediately reject any bad idea. There’s no point in discussing an idea with which there are serious and obvious flaws. Putting any effort into them just wastes everyone’s time. Clearly communicate the problems with the idea, put it to rest, and move on.

If you want to be a good product manager, encourage all ideas, even bad ones. You might be expecting the “there are no bad ideas” pep talk, but there are in fact bad ideas. Face it — some ideas are just better than others. However, just because an idea is bad does not mean that you should not even entertain the idea or spend any time with it.

Accepting all ideas — even ones that appear to be totally awful and worthless to even think about — benefits your product in several ways:

  • It establishes an environment in which people are encouraged to offer suggestions and comments. The idea that you think is horrible is one that the contributor thinks is brilliant. If you quickly shut that person down, how likely do you think that person is to contribute in the future? Customers, team members, and partners should be encouraged to offer up input as much as possible.
  • It allows you to build off ideas and make them better. A salesperson’s idea for a new product feature may at first seem ridiculous. Upon further consideration, you may come to conclusion that it indeed is ridiculous. However, during that consideration, you were able to generate a handful of other related and more appropriate ideas for features. Had you rejected the suggestion at first blush, you never would have had the opportunity to build off of it.
  • It may be that a bad idea is a really good one. Maybe it seemed bad when you first heard it, but upon further consideration and discussion you realized the benefits. Or, it could be that you really do think it’s a bad idea, but everyone else thinks its brilliant and you are just wrong. (Hey, stranger things have happened.)

Collaboration and innovation are important parts of product development. You need to create an environment in which both are encouraged. If you reject ideas outright, that will not only stifle creativity but encourage others to do so, further reducing the likelihood for collaboration and innovation. However, if you accept all suggestions for consideration and further reflection, regardless of how horrible they may initially appear, you will find that good ideas will emerge and you will have established working relationships in which more good ideas will flourish.

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3 thoughts on “Encourage bad ideas

  1. I’ve had success creating a product email alias that gets forwarded to me (and some other PD folks). It’s available to both internal and external people. I review all of the comments that come through and file them in our feature/defect tracking system so that they can be evaluated for inclusion in a future release.

    For some of the more novel suggestions, I run them by internal and external folks whose opinions and insights I trust to get their feel for the value of the suggestion.

    Bad ideas can become good or great ideas through the mechanisms you described or even just through the passage of time. I try not to dismiss anything, even if we have already tried it.

  2. Great post.

    The exploration of ideas–all ideas–is so critical to the Design process (with a capital D). It’s the main difference between *designing* a product and *creating* a product. Often people find a solution that works and stop. But Design is about looking at all possible solutions (or at least multiple possible solutions) and then going with the best one. So you’re points about looking at the bad ideas as part of the creative process and as part of the process of innovating are right on.

    Also, sometimes two bad ideas equals a good idea. And, exploring bad ideas gives you confidence of what not to do and why you’re not doing it. You can then explain to others “yes, we considered that but it’s a bad idea because of xyz.”


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