I love bad ideas. I have them all the time. Sometimes I proudly come up with them on my own, and other times they are foisted upon me by corporate America. For example, Hoover suggested that a vacuum cleaner would make a great Christmas present for your wife: "Christmas morning she'll be happier with a Hoover." Right. And I'll be happier sleeping on the couch.
Who's to say what's bad? We'll define a bad idea as anything the vast majority of reasonable people think is wrong, invalid, or unwise. Certainly, "bad" is in the eye of the beholder, but some ideas are just clearly, unequivocally bad.
It seemed like a good idea at the time
Often it is only in hindsight that we can label an idea as a bad one. These were once thought to be darn good ideas:
- Filling an airship with hydrogen
- Subprime mortgages
- Adding lead to gasoline
- Parachute pants
- New Coke
Having bad ideas is not a bad thing. In fact, the more creative and innovative thinking you do, the more ideas of all kinds you will have, many of which will be real stinkers. Hopefully, though, there will be golden nuggets of brilliance in there as well.
A bad idea becomes a problem - an Invisible Mind Block - when we hang onto it in the face of clear evidence that it is indeed a bad idea and should be discarded or avoided.
Take conspiracy theories. Many are provably wrong but still have steadfast believers who won't let them go, denying evidence that contradicts the idea. There are people who still believe the world is flat. Some people deny that the holocaust happened. Some insist that not wearing a seat belt is safer than wearing one.
Blaming the lizard brain
Our desire to embrace bad ideas is usually due to the activation of one or more cognitive biases, which are lizard brain impulses that distort our decision making. Here are a few culprits:
- Confirmation Bias - interpreting or filtering information so that it confirms what we already believe.
- Availability Cascade - the more we hear something, the more likely we are to believe it.
- The Affect Heuristic - we believe an idea simply because we like it or that it sounds good, not because it has actual merit.
Of course, we're not delusional like those conspiracy theory wackos, right? Well, let's check. Are you holding onto any of the following bad ideas? If so, click the links and create a new narrative for yourself:
- You're too old to take up something new
- You should trust your intuition
- You believe the adage that the customer is always right
The late comedian George Carlin often advised us to "Question everything." Great advice, but he was primarily referring to external sources - things we observe or hear. We shouldn't stop there. We need to also question our internal sources - our own ideas.
The more we discover about our subconscious impulses and biases (Invisible Mind Blocks), the more it becomes clear that the solution to many of our problems is simple - to think a little more about what we think. (We nerds call it "metacognition").
Think well and be well.