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David Squires

Thought: All Ideas Are Not Good Ideas

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When you have a brainstorming meeting, do you start with a little speech designed to make everyone comfortable and willing to contribute? You know — “All ideas are good ideas” and all that.

Kill that little speech. It doesn’t result in the best ideas. Anyway, if all ideas are considered good ideas, what’s the incentive to improve the quality of the ideas you present?

Instead, says Jonah Lehrer, author of the controversial (and now withdrawn) book “Imagine: How Creativity Works”, you should welcome debate and even criticism of ideas when presented.

After too many meetings in which “all ideas are good ideas”, people tend to get lazy. They stop bringing their best stuff. Sociological experiments show that when people’s ideas are debated, they engage more. Even better, this higher level of engagement continues after the meeting, when participants think about the points made about their ideas, and typically generate even more ideas.

Of course, all of this assumes that criticism is offered respectfully and in a positive spirit. (If you can’t guarantee that, stick with “All ideas are good ideas”.)

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In his book, Lehrer talks of Pixar, whose famed process of artistic invention relies heavily on teams collaborating to find thousands of ideal creative solutions as part of one massive, high-stakes project.

At Pixar, a technique called “plussing” is used in meetings. Basically, that means that whenever work is criticized, you should also try to “plus” it — offer an idea that builds on the original idea and is better.

Or as Pixar head John Lasseter puts it, taking “something that is good and making it better (great).”

Stop accepting the average. “Plus” your way to better brainstorming.

(Note: Due to a recent scandal involving fabricated Bob Dylan quotes included by the author in this book, “Imagine” is no longer available on the Amazon website. Read more at TheWrap.com for more details.)


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