How to Avoid Bad Ideas

How many times has something at first seemed like a great idea only for it to prove in hindsight to have been a terrible idea, I would like to bet the majority of people who read this will have experience of this.

It seems to be an inherently human trait that the majority of our ideas turn out to be rubbish, the question is why and how can we stop having so many rubbish ideas and replace them with good ideas?

Well as ever with the Equations of Life Series, before answering that question I will start with an equation:

Idea + why it’s a good idea + devil’s advocate = how good the idea is

With that out of the way, let’s get to it. We spend our lifetimes coming up with ideas, from is it a good idea to get married to is it a good idea to accept this job to is this a good idea for a business to many more.

Unfortunately for the majority of us most of our seemingly brilliant ideas turn out not to be quite as good as we hoped, and in many cases turn out to have been downright terrible ideas, the question is why, why do so many of our ideas which at first glance seem brilliant turn out to be terrible? Is it because people do not properly think through the ideas?

The answer is no and yes, and yes that is the right way round, when thinking through an idea people spend the majority of their time looking for reasons why it’s a brilliant idea and very little to no time asking why it might be a bad idea.

This is a mistake, a big mistake at that, and it doesn’t matter whether you are pondering a new business idea, wondering whether it’s a good idea to marry your partner, to have kids with your partner, or even considering whether it’s a good idea to buy a new house or car or to go on holiday, the biggest mistake a person can make and the biggest reason good ideas turn out to be bad ones is because nobody played devils advocate.

So it’s not that people don’t think the ideas through, it’s just they don’t use the correct process when thinking them through.

For example, take the botched intelligence behind the US invasion of Iraq, the belief was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and the intelligence community had much Intel to back this up, or so they thought.

But were no weapons of mass destruction and in the ensuing investigation into the botched intelligence, it was found that the Intel actually showed that it was highly likely that Saddam Hussein was hiding something and they had simply concluded that it must be weapons of mass destruction.

Perhaps a fair conclusion, what else would he be hiding. That’s the question they never asked, the reason this was such a catastrophic failing is best noted in the following quote from the report into the botched Intel which stated that, “failing to conclude that Saddam had ended his weapons programme is one thing, not even considering it as a possibility is another.”

Had it been considered as a possibility then perhaps they would not have been so sure that he had weapons of mass destruction. Whether that could have stopped the war from happening is irrelevant to this debate, the point is that the intelligence was botched because nobody considered why the conclusion that he may have weapons of mass destruction could be wrong, that is to say nobody played devils advocate, had somebody done so then the intelligence might not have been botched.

It’s like looking at your idea through rose tinted glasses, if you spend all your time looking for why you’re right inevitability you’re going to conclude yourself to be right even if you’re wrong because you will never see any evidence showing you otherwise.

That’s why when contemplating the merits of an idea it’s so important to get a rounded view, in a way it’s like the fundamental idea behind the Sun Tzu (a.k.a. the Art of War), you need to take in the whole and to do this with an idea that means you need to give equal bias not only to why it’s a good idea but why it might be a bad, and the best way to do this is two first search for all the reasons it’s a good idea, then play devils advocate.

Follow this process and you will give your ideas a chance of being good ones.

That’s all from me for today, stay safe!

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