“Bad Ideas”

You know you’ve had them.  I’ve had a ton of them.   We’ve all had ideas that just didn’t work.   I put the title in quotation marks because there’s a school of thought that says there’s no such thing.  But, whether you call them "bad" ideas, or misdirected effort, or failure to execute, or whatever, stuff happens. 

You may recall the episode of the comedy series "WKRP in Cincinnati", where Mr. Carlson dropped the live turkeys out of the helicopter at the shopping mall thinking that they could fly. I’d call that a bad idea. On the other hand, there were some folks at 3M who thought little pieces of paper that would stick to things and could be easily removed without leaving a mark was a bad idea.

The fact is that the only way to avoid bad ideas is to never have any ideas at all.  Continuous improvement can’t happen without a constant supply of ideas; some good-some bad.  The trick is to recognize the bad ones before you implement them.  If that doesn’t work, and sometimes it doesn’t, then the next best thing is to pull the plug as quickly as possible on the less-than-successful ones.

That sounds easy.  Try it.  If it doesn’t work, then stop and move on to something else.  You probably remember "New Coke".  The idea wasn’t bad.  The lifeblood of the soft drink industry is new products.  Things went wrong when the company decided to replace its flagship cola with a new taste.  Fans of "old" Coke were outraged!  Almost immediately Coca Cola went into disaster recovery mode.  They brought back "old" Coke, now called "Coke Classic" and did a public "mea culpa".  In the process they got millions of dollars worth of free publicity. 

The rest of us aren’t usually so lucky.  For starters, every new idea "belongs" to someone and ideas are like children.  No one likes to hear that theirs is ugly.  But some ideas are ugly, or at least the outcome is, and they have to go.  But human nature is to hang on.  Give it time.  Besides, we’ve spent money on this.  If we stop now, that money’s wasted.  Of course, if it’s your idea, the tendency to wait is even stronger.

Here’s the thing.  Every idea’s not going to succeed.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea and no one should take it personally.  Maybe the time wasn’t right.  Maybe we had bad information.  Maybe we left something out.  Maybe someone beat us to the punch.  It doesn’t matter.  As managers we have to put our emotions aside and make sound business decisions.

As far as the money spent is concerned, it’s never wasted.  If nothing else, we’ve paid for a short course in what does and doesn’t work.  Every new initiative, every new product, every new ad campaign should be analyzed.  Did it work?  Did it fail?  Why?  That information is money in the bank when the next thing comes along.  It’s called a quality improvement cycle.  Pdca
Plan, do, check, act, or PDCA.  Once you’ve done the planning and the doing, it’s time to check.  Did it work, or not?  Once you’ve answered this critical question, it’s time to act.  Act means either continuing as is, continue after making adjustments, or cut your losses. 

If everything points to the third choice, then take a deep breath, get your ego out of the way, and as Nike says "Just do it!"  Then file the learning away so you can us it to improve the execution of your next idea.  As a former boss of mine used to tell me, "I don’t care how many bad ideas you have as long as we make more money on the good ones than we lose on the bad ones."  Good advice.

4 Responses

  1. A Cold Carnival Monday

    Mine Your Own Business talks about, believe it or not, Bad Ideas. Really! But it’d be a good idea to read it.

  2. Pulling the plug isn’t easy for some corporations. It always leaves the scent that it’s some employee’s fault. –John

  3. I like this approach –
    It’s very liberating to take the view that its okay to have bad ideas. By not avoiding bad ideas, it frees us up to find the occasional good one buried among the rest.
    Thanks for sharing. By the way, I found you over at the Carnival of Small Business Issues (http://www.businessopportunitiesandideas.co.uk/460/carnival-of-small-business-issues-26)

  4. John and Liz,

    Thanks for the comments. It’s like selling. Every prospect isn’t going to buy and every idea isn’t going to make money. But you’ll never succeed if you don’t try and that means a few “failures” along the way.

    Also, thanks to the Carnival of Small Business Ideas for picking up the post.

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