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Why Your Worst Idea Could Be Your Best

If your daily bread depends upon your creativity then there’s a good chance that times are tough. Budgets are travelling in the wrong direction, there’s more scrutiny than ever before on digital metrics and ROI, and you can be fairly sure that sooner or later someone will tell you there’s an algorithm that can do your job just as well as you.

These unprecedented pressures can coalesce to create fear.

We fear that we won’t ever have a good idea again. Or if we do that our moment has passed and the idea won’t be as good as those we’ve had before. Or we worry that someone else is bound to come up with a better idea. And the unfortunate corollary of this is that the circumstances we fear are made more likely by the fear itself. Because fear is a killer of creativity.

Fear is wonderful at giving your body a shock of adrenalin, a heightened sensory awareness and preparing you to run for your life. But it’s terrible at allowing for the kind of carefree unselfconsciousness that delivers creativity and flow.

As soon as you decide that your answer to the brief before you is really important, that your professional success depends upon a brilliant response, then the chances of you achieving such a response become exponentially lower.

So, given that the conditions which engender creative fearfulness are becoming  ever more prevalent, what on earth are we to do?

Well, here’s a little tip.

Next time you’re about to begin the hunt for a great idea, on your own or as part of a team, instead of fruitlessly chasing brilliance, start by asking yourself what’s the worst possible idea you can come up with. What’s the singularly most awful response you can think of to the brief?

In 1969 Roy Grace and John Noble asked themselves this very question when they were tasked with coming up with an idea for a new Volkswagen ad. They decided to find the most inappropriate scenario for selling a car – in this case a funeral – and, as a result an advertising classic was born.

If you chase the worst possible idea, instead of the best, then you immediately kick over the impossibly high bar you’d otherwise set for yourself. You kid your brain into defusing the context of fearfulness which would only ever limit your creative capacity. The thought of what would make a terrible idea is funny. It makes you laugh. And laughter removes stress – and stress cripples creativity.

Best of all, by deliberately seeking a bad idea you fly in the face of the conventions of the category you’re working in, and put yourself in exactly the kind of fertile hunting ground where you might find a genuinely original approach to the challenge you’re taking on.

So, when you get your next brief, ask yourself what’s the worst possible idea you can come up with. You never know, it might be your best.

richard holmanComment