Design Thinking Toolkit, Activity 26 – Worst Possible Idea

Have a shy team that struggles with brainstorming or ideation sessions? Put them at ease and boost their confidence with the Worst Possible Idea.

Primary Goal To find practical or innovative ideas by thinking first of the craziest or most impractical ones
When to Use When general brainstorming sessions are feeling flat
Time Required 20-40 minutes
Number of Participants 1-10+
Who Should Participate? Any members of the team
Supplies Whiteboard, PostIt notes, Sharpies

Worst Possible Idea turns brainstorming on its head by challenging teammates to intentionally ideate the absolute worst, most ridiculous ideas. Injecting a bit of silly into your brainstorming session eases the anxieties of those who might be shy or feel judged or shamed during ideation sessions. It also helps boost team confidence when some are feeling uncreative. It challenges assumptions and becomes a compass that points toward amazing ideas.

This activity breaks through the glass ceiling of “we can’t do that” and celebrates crazy or wacky (a favorite word at Atomic) ideas in the best way. My favorite aspect of this activity is how, almost like magic, practical or innovative ideas will emerge from the most ridiculous ones. This activity will also challenge the group to practice “yes, and…” thinking, the art of building upon another’s idea. During this session, there should not be any “no, but…” statements. Everything is on the table, and dramatic, wild dreaming is encouraged.

Setup

First, define your challenge, goal, or problem statement. You could also use a How Might We…? statement for this activity as well.
For this example, we’ll use this statement: “How might we feed school children healthy lunches for free?”

Finally, have Post-its and Sharpies ready for each participant.

Run the Activity

  1. Place your challenge statement at the top of the whiteboard.
  2. Then, give everyone five minutes to privately and quietly write down one bad idea per Post-it. Encourage quantity over quality and push participants to create as many bad ideas as possible.

    Brainstorming the Worst Possible Idea
    Click for larger image.

  3. Next, have everyone share out their first round of bad ideas and group like ideas together.
  4. Put three more minutes on the timer and have participants do one last round of ideation, building upon others’ ideas. This can be done privately or out-loud to generate more participation.
  5. Group all similar ideas together and then begin to list the properties of each bad idea and also what makes them so bad.
  6. Alongside the bad properties and reasons, now list what the opposite of those would be and substitute good for the bad (see: the blue Post-it notes).
  7. Mix and match bad ideas to find what other interesting ideas might emerge.

After the activity is over, group together the positive/good ideas and begin to ideate and iterate upon solutions.

In the comments below, tell about some of your worst ideas ever, and happy terrible brainstorming!

This activity was created by Bryan Mattimore of The Growth Engine Company LLC.


Atomic’s Design Thinking Toolkit

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