“Making Things Happen – Mastering Project Management” by Scott Berkun
This is an excerpt from Chapter Five: Where Ideas Come From
Bad Ideas Lead to Good Ideas
I first saw a designer design something when I was a junior in college. I didn’t really know what designers did, and I thought that — for the most part — they made things look pretty: designer jeans, designer handbags, etc. Anyway, this young man was designing a new kind of portable stero. He sat at his desk in the design department undergraduate studio, which was a big, open space with lots of tables, sketches, prototypes, and blueprints all over the place. He was sketching out different ideas, each one an alternative design for the stereo. I asked him what he was doing, or more precisely, how what he was doing fit into “designing” — whatever that meant to him.
He thought it over for a moment, smiled, and told me “I don’t really know what the good ideas look like until I’ve seen the bad ones.” I nodded politely, but dismissed him entirely. I chalked up my inability to understand what he was saying to my perception of him as an odd, creative-type person, and not to my own ignorance.
It was only after I’d spent a couple of years designing software that I understood what he was saying. I’d learned through experience that good ideas often require the remains of many bad ideas. Without making mistakes and oversights in many different attempts, it’s often impossible to find the path of ideas that leads to success … Perhaps it’s only when an idea doesn’t work and we’re confronted with failure that we’re forced to review our assumptions. An only then, when we step back with more information, can we see the path that wasn’t visible to us before.
So, the best ideas and designs require momentum. They don’t arrive as the result of a magic spell or force of will (“Be brilliant, now! I mean now! How about…now!”). Every drawing, sketch, or prototype, no matter how ridiculous or pathetic, teaches the designer (or engineer or scientist) a little something more about the problem, and increases the odds that the next attempt will be better than the last. Every great mind that has pursued the solving of complex problems in the world has done so surrounded by large piles of crumpled paper. Some have lied about this, others have embraced it. If nothing else, this notion that bad ideas lead to good ones frees us to start designing however we choose. We should fully expect to get our hands dirty and make lots of early mistakes because the sooner we make them, the sooner we’ll move on to better ideas.