An exercise for rapidly evolving bad ideas

I often have many bad ideas, at least 1,000 if not more, in a week. But that doesn’t prevent me from trying to have even more ideas.

Often I hear feedback that my ideas are no good, that they’re not applicable, or are too flawed to be worthwhile even in the long run. If I were to take all of my bad ideas and put them into a book it would be considerably longer than David Foster Wallace’s behemoth, 1,079 page, Infinite Jest.

We all face these moments of coming to terms with our bad ideas. Sometimes that means facing the criticism from outside–from friends, co-workers, or others–or internally, from our inner critic who tells us to abandon the idea, to forget the work, to give up. Most times we realize our ideas are poor only once we’ve started in on them, made an investment of time or energy, or otherwise considered the idea to be at-least somewhat worthwhile.

And that latter part, about discovering our ideas are bad only after we’ve invested in them, is worthwhile.

I’ve written about this fear of imperfection before:

“Of course imperfection comes with a price. Flaws can make you look like an amateur. Typos and grammatical errors turn even the most elegant writer into an ambitious sophomore. Any idea that begins to crumble under the lightest of critique can have it thrown out in a heartbeat.”

But the fear of an idea being poor–or the fear of being mocked or criticized for our ideas–should not prevent us from trying to have more ideas, and pushing ourselves to even have more bad ones.

Creativity takes guts.

“You don’t need to come up with the next big idea. Your ideas don’t need to be the best, or even your best. What’s more important is that you have ideas, and that you have the guts to see them through.”

Bad ideas often lay the foundation for good ideas, because we wouldn’t know what makes a good idea good unless we had a better understanding of what makes bad ideas bad.

In order to push our creative ability, we must find ways to push past the fear of making mistakes and of internal or external criticism.

There’s a few ways to go about this, but one that I have personally found success with is rapid iteration and execution.

Instead of letting my inner critic prevent me from working on an idea, or from letting outside criticism stop an idea in its tracks, I let that criticism and fear rapidly propel the idea forward.

For example: recently I spent an entire weekend working on a small creative project, something I know I wanted but thought others might be interested in as well.

Upon completing a quick, rough version of the project, I sent the idea and the concept to an artist I greatly admire. His reply started with a heartbreakingly discouraging phrase you might be familiar with yourself: “I’m sure there will be people who will be into this, but…”

The feedback I received was valid, ultimately concluding that my idea might be interesting for some, but it’s unlikely to appeal to a broader group of people (including the type of people I look up to).

Rather than being discouraged, I’m planning to release the rough version of the idea I came up with anyway.

In your creative endeavors you can do the same: whenever criticism strikes or you start getting feedback that your ideas might be bad, let those moments of pause cause you to propel the idea forward.

The worst case is you release something as a “rough draft” or “early experiment” that lowers the bar for feedback and allows you to improve moving forward. The best case is the bad idea quickly evolves into something more worthwhile.

In either way, you can’t let the fear that your ideas are bad – or criticism around your ideas – prevent you from pushing them forward at least a little.

Keep moving. Get the idea out the door anyway and learn from it. Done is better than dreaming. Something is better than nothing. You can’t learn and grow and explore that which doesn’t exist.

Read this next: Facing the fear that you may not be that creative and all your ideas are bad.