Ideas come in various degrees. Ideas that seem relevant, ideas that seem original, ideas that are both relevant and original. After a phase of creating ideas, we can start to evaluate them. The most common type of evaluation is seeing how well the ideas do at solving the problem at hand.
Eventually there will be ideas that are neither original nor relevant (relevant meaning the idea is an effective solution to the problem), relevant and original, or just one of either. In general this divides the pile of ideas into good, bad and Great Ideas.
You might have heard of the expression “there are no bad ideas” – just as the ‘there are no dumb questions’ cliche. This notion however, is not so much about the quality of the idea being offered itself, but more about postponing judgment during the phase of divergence (generation lots of ideas) in a brainstorm session for example. When evaluating ideas the ‘no bad idea’ rule no longer applies, and is in fact a necessary part of convergence, in working towards a set of solutions we think are valuable, effective solutions to the problem at hand. The mistake is however, to see bad ideas as ‘worthless’ or ‘failures’.
When evaluating ideas, I see a bad idea as an idea with obvious, relevant flaws in providing a solution at hand.
As said, this does not mean the idea is therefor worthless, and should not be investigated. As proven by the famous story of Edison, who needed 999 ‘bad ideas’ to get to his one great idea. If her had discarded these ideas instantly as failures, he’d never have gotten to the one light bulb that did work. Or in his own words: I didn’t fail 999 times, I just found 999 ways that didn’t work.
Bad Ideas can be a great source of inspiration especially because they are so ‘off- base’. They missed the target, are unlogical or took a ‘wrong turn’ in addressing or interpreting the problem. But these ‘wrong turns’ can easily inspire good ideas by going into the opposite direction, or help re-evaluate the problem itself.
The good and the Great Idea
But most of your ideas will be actually be ‘good ideas’. Ideas that at first glance connect with the problem in a meaningful way (thus have relevance). But relevance is not all that is needed for a Great Idea. ‘Good’ is what you get when you deliver what was expected. Good won’t get you talked about, good won’t get you noticed, and creates a satisfied customer, not an enthusiastic customer.
In the evaluation phase there’s a new opportunity for ideas to connect. The flaws of bad ideas expose opportunities for new good ideas. Good ideas can be found complimentary to each other, and by combining good ideas from different fields, one creates originality. A combination of both relevance and originality creates the creative solutions that go beyond expectations: The Great Ideas.
The perfect idea
There is just one more ‘label’ in the idea evaluation phase of ideation that deserves some special attention. This is the perfect idea. A label of ‘perfection’ is rarely a good thing in ideation. Perfection specifically implies the idea can not be improved.
But perfection is rarely, if not never, objective. ‘Your perfect’ does not have to be ‘my’ perfect. And by ‘my’ I mean your client, your boss, your end-user, your audience. Is perfect the highest amount of profit your idea generates at all cost, or the highest amount of people that like your design, the amount of exposure it generates, a combination of factors?
Perfect is a state of mind. It’s an attitude towards alternative views that doesn’t belong in the ideation process of the Creative Thinker. Even the mere hint of a ‘perfect solution’ can seriously harm your creative thinking – when ideation turns into a linear search for the ‘holy grail’, ruthlessly excluding opposing views that are a necessary component of any truly Great Idea.
So when evaluating ideas – treat the ‘bad ideas’ with special care, explore their trains of thought and define their shortcomings. Be wary of accepting good ideas too quickly. Good might seem satisfactory, but satisfactory is a long way from that feeling every creative wants to inspire. Let the concepts of your good ideas connect, and see where Great Ideas start to form – going beyond expectation, and having a healthy mix of relevance and originality. Last, be wary of ‘perfect ideas’ – the kind of idea that makes you blind or deaf to other ideas and different opinions. Any idea can be improved, any idea is open to interpretation – don’t close your eyes and ears for valuable feedback and be open to re-evaluation of your ideas.