“If truth be told, the easy road is nothing more than an armchair in clever disguise. And if you look around, it seems that there are a whole lot of people in the furniture business.”
Craig D. Lounsbrough
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves …”
Berean Study Bible
So. I tend to believe most of us learn, fairly early in our careers, that bad ideas do not die on their own. In fact … as you gain more experience you actually find that bad ideas can often be incredibly hard to kill –they may actually have more than nine lives.
At exactly the same time most of us also learn that good ideas rarely are seen as the greatest thing since sliced bread and embraced as a good idea as soon as they are presented.
Think about that for a second. Bad ideas are incredibly hard to kill and good ideas can be incredibly hard to bring to life.
Well. That’s pretty fucked up. And, yet, despite learning this I still believe most of us are surprised when we find a bad idea still breathing and a good idea is breathing its last breath.
Shit. Even I forget this lesson despite having seen some of the most bad ideas in the world live despite my best efforts and some of the goodest of ideas die despite my best efforts.
I seem to keep forgetting it despite the fact the world is filled with some incredibly absurdly bad factually incomprehensible, or defensible, ideas.
Forgetting this is dangerous.
It creates a Life & business world strewn with bad ideas which can quite easily lead to a complacency that bad ideas will exist no matter what we do, or worse, complacency when faced with a bad idea because we believe it is fruitless to fight it.
I will not spend a lot of time on complacency, but suffice it to say it is a sneaky little bastard especially when it comes to bad ideas. But the bigger issue is that, for several reasons, we tend to let our guard down when faced with a bad idea.
Reason 1: The difference between a really bad idea and a ‘shrug your shoulders a little’ bad idea can often be indiscernible.
We have a bad habit of dismissing bad in its initial stages as just “bad.” This lets a hardier & sturdier bad idea off the hook. It is quite possible most of us just hope it smothers itself in its badness and just goes away but more often than not … it does not. And, yet, time and time again we make an initial assessment of “bad, maybe & good” and mostly dismiss ‘bad’ and move on.
I could suggest that not all bad ideas are created equal, but it is probably better advice to simply treat all bad ideas as equally bad. Don’t waste your time discerning the difference; just assume a bad idea will be a motherfucker to kill.
Reason 2: Bad ideas have an innate knack to normalize their being.
Once you let a bad idea off the hook when it is initially introduced it has a nasty habit of slipping into the general conversation as “possibility.” In other words because it didn’t die before it could draw its first breath it somehow becomes normalized as some viable breathing idea.
Yeah. Normalizing is a word that is being tossed round a lot lately.
As a corollary that all bad ideas can look quite similar <bad ideas> we have a tendency to simply normalize them <as ideas that may not be as good as some other ideas>. Bad is a fucking big bucket to normalize as simply “another idea to consider.”
It gets worse at that point.
“Outsider” ideas take on some personality that almost adds viability even though it is still a bad fucking idea. It’s like all bad ideas wear black and blend into any crowd … and almost become cool by doing so. Yeah. Just ponder that for a second. How many bad ideas get a label of “cool idea”, but it’s actually a bad idea. Once a bad idea falls into the “cool thing to consider” category it becomes an aggravating difficult challenge for the actual good idea.
Anyway. A moment back to complacency.
Reason 3: Complacent is a squooshy word and concept.
I tried googling complacency with bad ideas and got only 514000 results. Uhm. But looking within the top 8 results … the office, west point, teen life, politics, religion and a general one … there were none with regard to bad ideas.
This suggests complacency strikes everyone at different times in our lives. But in no place could I find anyone discussing how complacency in our thinking as in how everyone can see a bad idea as a bad idea and therefore we can relax <become complacent> because … well … bad ideas just get thrown away because they are bad.
Complacency is squooshy.
Let’s face it. No one wants to invest energy chasing after some bad idea to be sure it is dead. Sure. The most experienced of us absolutely circle back after the original bad idea has been killed to make sure it is really dead. But we don’t circle around it and hover over it to see if it is really dead … we just check in on it. Basically we have better things to do than stick around to smother the sonuvabitch to be sure it is dead. But, in the harsh spotlight of truth, this is plain & simple complacency.
I have been burned by bad ideas so many times I have come to sometimes think of bad ideas as tsunamis. They begin as a small shaking of the earth miles down under the surface of the ocean completely unseen. In this metaphor you may have actually been in the frickin’ meeting where it was declared bad idea and even been there when it got discarded, but you just were not aware of the earth moving way way down under your feet.
From there the bad idea can gain some incredible momentum only to build into some huge wave which can wash over even the strongest criticism at a later date <let alone drown a shitload of good ideas>. Suffice it to say … it can drive you crazy.
I think we have all been in this situation at work.
Once a bad idea has some momentum they are next to impossible to kill.
I sometimes believe this is because <a> some people pretend a second rate idea is first rate and <b> a shitload of people cannot see the difference between a second rate idea and a first rate.
“What’s terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate.”
But I actually believe it is because we give bad ideas a free pass. What I mean by that is we take a good idea and start running the ‘idea to implementation’ gauntlet defending it and selling it and sharing it all with the end goal in mind. All the while, as we focus on the good, we don’t notice <or maybe it is just a nagging aggravation along the way> that the bad idea is also in the ‘idea to implementation’ gauntlet, but getting a free ride because it isn’t really being sold … it just keeps appearing along the way as “the alternative idea to the good one” <note: if you ever hear this phrase your bad idea/bullshit antennae should be on high alert>.
While you were focused on the good and paying attention to something else the bad idea has gained “a voice”. That voice can be a person or it can simply be some “myth” associated with it. And when that happens you can find yourself hearing about a bad idea in some hallway from someone who really knows nothing about it and, uhm, they speak of its myth in some positive way. Suffice it to say the moment that happens … you are fucked. The bad idea is not only alive and breathing; it is healthy <in almost mythical proportions>.
Ok. So rather than bitch about bad ideas let me make a suggestion to everyone.
Life, and business, is one big mosh pit of shit. The shit is made up of stuff to do, responsibilities, everyday commitments and responsibilities … as well as ideas. This mosh pit is a big dark gloomy cloud of stuff swirling around.
Now. The ideas shit is a little different. What I mean by that is 99% of ideas do not just happen <good and bad ones> like most of the other stuff in the mosh pit.
Ideas need some ‘oomph’ to get thru the mosh pit. They need to navigate a narrow winding path through the big mosh pit of shit from the moment they are introduced to the moment in which it reaches a point where the idea shifts to some action. As noted earlier, in most cases, the path usually has two ideas jostling each other along this path … a good idea and a bad idea.
“Our minds are a battle ground between good and bad ideas; we are whatever side wins the battle”
I imagine my real point is that bad ideas do not die simply because they are bad. You cannot be silent, you cannot ignore them, you cannot be complacent and you cannot simply champion the good idea. You actually have to fight bad ideas.
It may be aggravating to do so.
It may take more energy than you want to.
It may even get a little absurd in how often you feel like you have put a knife through its heart and you still find it alive and kicking not long after. But if you want good ideas to win you have to accept the burden of the fight. And this fight has a number of rounds and takes place over an extended period of time.
Here is what I know about fighting bad ideas. I now assume they never die. I believe they simply end up in second place to a good idea that competed better.
That last sentence may be one of the best pieces of advice I have ever given to the business world.