100 Bad Ideas


You and a group of friends are heading out for an impromptu lunch.

As you’re heading out, someone asks, “Where are we going?” followed by several others adding the obligatory “I don’t care”s and “You decide”s.

It’s as if no one has any idea where to eat.

Now imagine you speak up, sharing “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”

Want to guess what’s likely to happen next?

If your friends are like mine, they will suddenly be both full of and generously sharing ideas. This restaurant, or that one, wait, “How does everyone feel about…?”

Anywhere but McDonald’s.


It’s what Jon Bell calls the McDonald’s Theory.

Ask people to share their best ideas about how to solve a problem and you’ll often be met with the all-too-familiar sound of crickets.

But break the ice with a not-so-good idea and other ideas, much better, possibly even great, ones will follow, if for no other reason than to diminish the clearly bad idea.

Introducing the 100 bad ideas strategy

McDonald’s is most likely not a viable solution to the common problems you’ve faced throughout your leadership journey, but this theory is what I’ve put into practice, with success, in multiple situations.

I call this strategy 100 Bad Ideas. When I’m faced with a need to brainstorm possible solutions to a problem, either individually or leading a group, it is curiously effective to prime the creative, psychologically-safe pump by starting with the expectation to generate bad ideas.

Once you intentionally create the space for failure, for the clearly bad, somehow you allow for the vulnerable creation, and sharing, of the really special, the remarkable, to emerge.

And let’s face it. Every problem we encounter boils down to idea generation.

It’s closely connected to what Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, discovered during an experiment he ran with his film photography students.

He divided his class into two groups. The “quantity” group was to submit as many photographs as possible throughout the semester, and on the last day of the course, he would categorize the photos into A, B, C, D, and F grades. The “quality” group would be graded on only one photo of their choosing. Their singular submission would need to be nearly perfect to earn their A.

He was surprised that all the best photos were submitted by the “quantity” group.

While the “quality” group was obsessing over the idea of perfection, the “quantity” group was out experimenting, reflecting, learning, tweaking, and ultimately making the most progress towards a great idea.

As Jeremy Utley, author of Ideaflow, points out, we tend to stop at one good idea. It actually takes thousands of bad or mediocre ideas to get to a great idea.

Clarifying the expectation up front that we actually want the mediocre, inferior ideas out there nurtures the patience and perseverance it takes to get to the remarkable ideas.

And those remarkable unicorns of the idea world are always worth the work.


The next time you’re leading a brainstorming session, instead of asking, “What are some good ideas?” try asking, instead, “What are some BAD ideas?”

How do you solve problems? How do you cultivate and curate ideas on your team? Together we are brilliant, so I’d love to connect! Share this post by tweeting and tagging me (@me1odystacy) or feel free to start a conversation by commenting below.

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