How to Ideate: Think About Bad Ideas First
February 14, 2017

How to Ideate: Think About Bad Ideas First


Have you ever pulled your team together for an ideation session that just didn’t go the way you expected? You presented a problem to solve, asked for ideas and the cold, blank stares left you feeling chilled to your bones.

Or maybe you’ve attended a session like this and without preparation, a 900-pound-guerilla-of-a-question is thrown your way so you sheepishly hand it a banana in hopes that it doesn’t eat you.

Whether participating or facilitating, we’ve all been there. When you want to get the most out of your teams’ creative energies, there are endless tips and tricks on how to prepare your team for the session, how to keep the energy alive, how to keep everyone on track, etc.

Today, I thought I’d share a tip on how to warm up your time – the trick to getting to the good ideas is to actually start with the bad ideas.

One way to do this is a quick exercise designed to ease nerves, and help people tap into their creative sides with quick doodles.

  • Give each participant a stack of blank index cards (roughly 10) and a sharpie marker.
  • Write a question/prompt on a board nearby.
  • Give the participants 5 minutes to draw as many bad ideas as they can (bonus points for some background music!).
  • Once the time is up, have participants share their favorite bad ideas.
  • You’ll have the room laughing and the tensions eased.

To take this exercise a step further, you could add a second round and ask participants to go back through their bad ideas and flip them into something that could work. This will help show that there is a fine line between the “bad” and “good” and that all ideas are useful in some way.

A third iteration is to have participants start with a stack of fresh cards and go for the wildest idea, pushing them to think outside of the box, no limitations – the crazier the better.

Once you get to the real ideation exercise, you can apply the ‘bad ideas’ approach again by getting out all of the obvious, already-stated ideas that everyone is already thinking about. We often put pressure on ourselves to come up with something new and inventive, but until we let go of what’s already there, there isn’t room to explore the not-so-obvious. To that end, encourage participants (or yourself!) to get those ideas out, even if you know they aren’t the greatest. Don’t wait until the perfect one hits, just write them all down and you’ll certainly get closer to the next big thing a bit sooner.


During an ideation session with ACSM, we asked the group to give us their best ‘bad ideas’ on how to improve communication with their members. One suggestion, shown here, was to use a  telephone tree to release all news and information amazing!