How Bad Ideas Become Good Ideas

Winter 2013


How Bad Ideas Become Good Ideas

By Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

Chris Brogan and Julien Smith are authors of Trust Agents. From The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise? (Portfolio/Penguin). ©2012

One reason many people don’t have good ideas is that they were never taught how. The average workplace doesn’t have to deal with proper idea-creation methods or produce truly excellent ideas. It never has to see ideas compete against one another, either inside the organization or outside in the ecosystem of ideas. It doesn’t truly know how to process good ideas, how to improve them, or how they come to exist. Every part of the equation is missing. “Brainstorming” and its stunted siblings are the only ones present in the room.

It is also never exposed to a marketplace of bad ideas. Just as one never truly knows what is funny until one discovers what is not funny and why (like an experienced comedian), one doesn’t truly understand how a successful idea becomes successful until one sees similar ideas fail.

The magic of the amateur, or the beginner, is that he can benefit from beginner’s luck—the way random individuals can have massive YouTube successes with tens of millions of views, and so on. (They usually try to re-create their one success over and over again. Sometimes this works, but more often it’s just sad.) Everyone else needs a process of constant refinement, of exposure to embarrassment and error, in order to galvanize their mind and keep the learning process going.


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The Conference Board Review is the quarterly magazine of The Conference Board, the world's preeminent business membership and research organization. Founded in 1976, TCB Review is a magazine of ideas and opinion that raises tough questions about leading-edge issues at the intersection of business and society.