Bring your worst idea!

I was reading a discussion yesterday on a closed site I get to use where it was mentioned that perfectionism is what often holds people back from achieving their goals.  When I think about this in terms of the Active Thinking concepts we've been discussing, I think perfectionism is a contributing factor when there is difficulty with this activity.

This doesn't mean that individuals are necessarily perfectionists, but most organizations reward getting right answers.  The very nature of Active Thinking requires that the team discuss many potential answers that end up being wrong.  By the end of the project, more wrong answers have been discussed than right answers.  This goes against the grain of most organizations, which in most cases is a good thing.  We want to ensure that a company is good at producing reliable products.  But when used at the wrong time it can kill innovative solutions before they have time to mature.

I was managing a team once that was having a very difficult time getting started.  We did a lot of consumer research, and the discussions were swirling around which frameworks would lead us to the answer.  The team was very reluctant to just try a few and discard what wasn't working.  No one wanted to be wrong.  So one day I asked everyone to bring their worst idea to the meeting.  Each team member was asked to present this idea and why it would be the worst thing we could possibly do.  We then guided the discussion toward what it would take to make each idea "less wrong."  This process required us to state our assumptions, question them, and build new constructs.  We were finally on our way.

What I learned is that sometimes the best way to change direction is to exaggerate the direction in which we're already going.  Since everyone was afraid to be wrong, we made being wrong the only way to complete the assignment correctly.  Sometimes being wrong is the only way to be right.