Worst Possible Idea

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What is Worst Possible Idea?

Worst Possible Idea is an ideation method where team members purposefully seek the worst solutions in ideation sessions. The “inverted” search process relaxes them, boosts their confidence and stokes their creativity so they can examine these ideas, challenge their assumptions and gain insights towards great ideas.

See how seeds of wisdom grow from even the most toxic soil.

Why go for the Worst Possible Idea?

Some people clam up in group sessions such as brainstorming, although everyone in a design team technically should feel free to explore all possibilities on the road to the best solution. With their peers surrounding them, they may be reluctant to offer input, fearing their ideas will make them look silly or short-sighted. Team members may also hold back on mentioning—and then forget—fragments or beginnings of plans that are actually valuable, fearing someone will rip their embryonic brainchild apart and humiliate them. When your design team uses the Worst Possible Idea technique, you avoid this by flipping the playing field. The name of the game is to produce the silliest, craziest ideas. Therefore, as nobody can look silly, nobody will worry about losing face. Better still, because the premise of the approach seems ridiculous, the group’s laughter relaxes us further as we proceed.

Author, president and co-founder of The Growth Engine Company LLC, Bryan Mattimore coined the term “worst possible idea” when he described turning the search for innovative ideas with a group of professionals upside down. The point was to kick-start a fruitful process for thinking up ideas by breaking with convention. Instead of getting stuck on trying for good ideas the group was encouraged to adopt a radically different approach. Soon, because everyone was searching for downright awful ideas, they could loosen up. And because the group could relax enough, they managed to overcome the impasse or mental constipation which the pressure of other ideation techniques can impose. In the case of the individuals Mattimore worked with, as they generated many seemingly terrible ideas, they found they could get on track towards what actually would work.

Steps in the Worst Possible Idea Method

The real power of Worst Possible Idea is what happens after we start to feel more at ease about offering our thoughts. Although you and your team are free to kick back and try for the most ludicrous-sounding notions, there is a method to the madness.

To practice Worst Possible Idea, as group members we should:

  1. Come up with as many bad ideas as we can.
  2. List all the properties of those terrible ideas.
  3. List what makes the worst of these so very bad.
  4. Search for the opposite of the worst attribute.
  5. Consider substituting something else in for the worst attribute.
  6. Mix and match various awful ideas to see what happens.

What can come from Worst Possible Ideas?

When design team members identify a rotten-looking or “preposterous” idea and deconstruct it to see what makes it tick as such, they can find powerful insights that may serve as foundations for good plans elsewhere.

“Bad ideas started flowing. "Here's a really bad idea," said one banker. "We could round down everyone's deposits to the nearest dollar. Most people probably wouldn't notice." Said another, "let's make mistakes in their favor, give everyone extra money every time they make a transaction. Now that's a bad idea!" More laughter," but if you've ever seen the Bank of America "keep the change" savings program, perhaps it began in this session.”

— Bob Dorf, Co-author of The Startup Owner’s Manual (writing about Bryan Mattimore)

Learn More about Worst Possible Idea

Find details on Worst Possible Idea and other Design Thinking techniques in the Interaction Design Foundation’s course: https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/design-thinking-the-beginner-s-guide-ver1

Read Bob Dorf’s piece that sheds light on how Bryan Mattimore wielded Worst Possible Idea with powerful results: https://www.inc.com/bob-dorf/to-find-a-great-idea-try-looking-for-the-worst-ide.html

Psychology author Drake Baer examines the dynamic of shame-culture in ideation sessions, offering some valuable and amusing insights: https://www.fastcompany.com/3009118/you-just-proposed-the-worst-idea-possible-yeah-well-its-actually-pure-gold