The science of having more good ideas

There’s a popular notion that “the best way to have good ideas is to have a lot of ideas.”

We can thank the biochemist and author Linus Pauling for that quote. Statistically speaking Linus was right, of course. If you increase the overall number of ideas you have, you’re bound to increase the number of good ideas naturally.

What’s the science behind having more good ideas though? Apart from looking at the face value of merely having more ideas, what does it take to increase the odds of having more good ideas?

We don’t have to dig very far for an answer, thanks to Joel Chan, a student at the University of Pittsburg.. Joel recently addressed the science behind having good ideas and shared some interesting results.

The answer? To really have more good ideas, you have to have a solid amount of proportionally bad ideas too. In-fact, the variance between good and bad ideas you have needs to be greater than that of what the average person may come up with.

Joel put it best: “The work Karl Ulrich and Steven Eppinger at Wharton and Sloan schools of management…shows, via various simulation and empirical methods, that one maximizes one’s chances of obtaining exceptional ideas not necessarily by raising the average quality of ideas generated, but rather by increasing the variance of quality of generated ideas.” He continues, “Highly successful sustained creative output has more to do with high throughput than generating better ideas on average all the time.”

Studies from the University of California Davis and MIT have shown that groups who produce a large amount of bad ideas also tend to produce the most amount of good ideas as well. Incentives to produce both types of ideas in volume often yield the best ideas.

There’s clearly value in taking risks and pursuing ideas that are downright bad, for the sole purpose of coming up with both bad (and good) ideas.

Seth Godin summed up the importance of being open to bad ideas by saying: “The problem is that you can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones. Painters, musicians, entrepreneurs, writers, chiropractors, accountants – we all fail far more than we succeed…”

So what bad ideas have you come up with lately? How can you embrace the notion that you’ll have bad ideas, but those ideas can also lead to stronger ideas as well? Good or bad, there’s value in having ideas.