Posted by: Justin Wallace | February 1, 2010

The Art of Brainstorming :: Mastering the Bad Idea

Dave Milam is the Lead Minister and Planter of Kinetic Church in Charlotte, NC. He grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio at Christ’s Church in Mason and went to school at Cincinnati Christian University, where he met Anne, his wife of thirteen years. He and Anne have 4 children.

Have you ever noticed that it’s always the other guy who comes up with the most creative idea first. You want to be creative. And maybe people think you are, but you know the truth: plagiarism is your best friend. Somebody else’s bright idea is your sermon’s bottom line and somebody’s fashion is your latest trend.

Wouldn’t it be great to be the one with the big idea for a change?

Maybe there’s another level of creative genius waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, you’re the guy who has about as much creativity as a Treky tax accountant. (no offense to the tax accountants out there)

Maybe all you need is a few simple adjustment to your creative process. Maybe your best ideas are still trapped deep inside longing to be discovered.

Here are a couple of tips to help you expand your creative genius:

Aim for the bad idea

Let’s be honest, whenever you’re in brainstorming session, something cynical inside your head wants to Simon Cowell every idea before it comes out. (You don’t want to look stupid after all) The reality is too many brilliant ideas never make it to the white board; they’re aborted before they have the opportunity to breathe. So, let those bad ideas out!

Actually, you need as many bad ideas as possible. The bad always breeds the brilliant. So, get as many as you can, say them out loud, write them down and save the editing until later.

Keep in mind the best ideas sometimes start out looking pretty ugly at first. If you don’t kill it, you might be surprised to see that ugly duckling idea transform into something beautiful.

Make quantity your goal, not quality

Whenever you’re in a brainstorming session, set the timer and come up with as many ideas as possible. The goal is to have lots of ideas written down; good ideas, bad ideas, strange ideas…it doesn’t really matter. Just lots of ideas.

Make the box bigger

As much as we want our team to think outside of the box, for many it’s just impossible. So your job as the leader is to make the box as huge as possible. You can give people non-verbal permission to come up with the bad, by suggesting the ridiculous. For example, you could say something like, “What if we had 50 gerbils, 10 trampolines and a black light?” Stupid, huh? Well, you have just given your team permission to be stupid with their ideas. (and there is brilliance hidden in stupid)

Save the commentary

Editorial comments during a brainstorm session always hinder the creative process. Even comments like “great idea” or “I love that” dry up the creative juice. You see, those comments communicate to your team that, “I’m evaluating every idea right now.” When your team discovers it’s being evaluated, they’ll quickly slide out of creative mode and into editing mode. (and that’s a bad thing)

Let your team know what you’re doing

Start acting like a Pre-School teacher and begin clearly community with your team exactly what you’re doing…EVERY TIME. You are their tour-guide throughout the creative process. Don’t assume they know what to do.

You could say something like, “Okay guys, for the next 5 minutes we want to come up with as many bad, ridiculous and realistic ideas as possible on the topic of _________. The goal is quantity not quality. Here are the rules: 1)editorial comments during a brainstorm session will cost you a dollar, 2) you must say your ideas out loud 3)every idea must be written down on a post-it note (one idea per note). 4) stick your ideas on the wall after you’ve written them. Are you ready…go!”

Or, “We are editing ideas now. So constructive editorial comment are welcome. Negative comments cost a dollar.”

The best creativity occurs in an environment of true acceptance. Lead your team to produce lots of bad ideas, and with just a little practice you could become a creative Yoda. Who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and be the guy with the big idea for a change.



  1. What a great explanation of how and why bad ideas are good. My book, Power Brainstorming, endorses what you said and lists more brainstorming ideas.

  2. […] as he transitions from serving one big campus in Montana to the Metro Portland area. And Dave Milam continues the Art of Brainstorming series at Heart of Campus […]

  3. […] posts here :: Part 1 // by Justin Wallace :: Part 2 // by Benson Hines :: Part 3 // by PC Walker :: Part 4 // by Dave […]

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