You Just Proposed The Worst Idea Possible? Yeah, Well, It’s Actually Pure Gold

People are scared to volunteer dumb ideas. So give them your dumbest one first. The results can be transcendent.

You Just Proposed The Worst Idea Possible? Yeah, Well, It’s Actually Pure Gold

It’s approaching noon and you’re getting hungry. So are your coworkers. And no one knows where to go. Jon Bell has a suggestion: McDonald’s. Ugh, goes the rest of the room.


Why the oft-maligned Golden Arches? So that everyone will disagree–and so better suggestions will follow.

“It’s as if we’ve broken the ice with the worst possible idea,” Bell writes on Medium, “and now that the discussion has started, people suddenly get very creative.”

But why is the first idea is so hard?

In a word: shame. In a book, it’s Daring Greatly, where sociologist Brené Brown explores how shame permeates our culture. In an excerpt we ran last year, she tells of a Silicon Valley retreat she did with Kevin Surace, who was Inc.’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009. The then-CEO of Surface Materials said this to her:

“I don’t know if it has a name, but honestly, it’s the fear of introducing an idea and being ridiculed, laughed at, and belittled.”

The name for that feeling is vulnerability, which she defines as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. And as she told us last year, if you want to do awesome work, you’re going to be making yourself vulnerable.

“I would challenge anyone to point to any act of innovation that was not born of vulnerability, that was not born of putting an idea on a table that half the people in the room thought was stupid,” she told us. “If the idea that makes sense to everyone right away, there’s nothing innovative about it, right?”

That’s the brilliance of Bell’s lunchtime McDonald’s pitch: Putting the worst idea on the table defuses the (often unacknowledged) tension that prevents people from being the first to expose their thoughts. Once that first idea makes it to the whiteboard, you can all start workshopping it, just like Pixar does.

So pitch the worst possible idea. And then address your idea-stifling shame culture.


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.