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How bad idea brainstorms have helped me get braver—and better—at work

By Deanna deBara · March 17, 2022
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I've had plenty of good ideas about how to build and improve my business. I've taken classes. I've fine-tuned my pitching processes. I've put systems into place to make my day-to-day tasks easier and more manageable.

But when 2021 left me feeling uninspired at work, it turns out it wasn't a good idea that I needed to pull me out of my rut; instead, it was a series of bad ideas.

Bad idea brainstorms, to be exact.

What is a bad idea brainstorm?

A bad idea brainstorm is (as the name suggests) a brainstorming session where, instead of trying to come up with good ideas, you commit to generating as many bad ideas as possible. 

Removing the pressure to come up with your next great plan, strategy, or idea—and, instead, giving yourself space to come up with any ideas at all, including awful ones—can help spark creativity and, ultimately, lead to better ideas.

The basis for my bad idea brainstorms comes from author and entrepreneur James Altucher's idea machine concept. He suggests brainstorming 10 to 20 ideas every day—even if those ideas are terrible—to work your "idea muscle," get your creative juices flowing, and start consistently generating good ideas.

My experience with bad idea brainstorms started in 2021. After months of feeling stuck, unmotivated, and uninspired in my business, I was willing to do anything to shake the "meh" feeling (officially known as languishing) I'd been struggling with for the majority of the pandemic. I wanted to start feeling inspired and excited about work again. So, every few weeks or so, I'd sit down with my journal, set a timer, and jot down as many bad ideas as I could around how to reignite the passion I've always had for my work.

My bad idea brainstorms mostly generated, well, bad ideas. For example: as someone who struggles to stay up past 10 p.m., setting an alarm for the middle of the night and getting up to write for a few hours would probably have the opposite of the intended effect. And while using a random idea generator for blog post ideas would relieve some of the pressure of pitching my clients, I don't know that there's much of a demand for content around "online restaurants for barbers."

But my brainstorms also led to some pretty spectacular ideas—ideas that have, without a doubt, led to higher productivity, a greater sense of accomplishment, and feeling better about my work overall.

Here are some of the good ideas born from my bad idea brainstorms.

Do a cold plunge once a week: re-energize physically

I'm a person who values comfort and coziness. I'm not ashamed to admit I own both a Comfy and a Snuggie. 

So initially, my idea to do a cold plunge once a week ended up on the official "bad idea" list. Why would I willingly subject myself to being submerged in freezing cold water (in the dead of winter, no less), when I could be at home, wrapped in a warm blanket and drinking a cup of tea?

But after doing some research, I found that cold plunges might be exactly what I needed to get re-energized about my business. Cold plunges increase production of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which can help you feel more focused, energized, and just in an overall better mood.

So I decided to give it a try at a local biohacking center—and let me tell you, the process is pretty intense. For the cold plunge, you submerge yourself up to your neck in water that's around 32 degrees Fahrenheit—and then sit in that water for five full minutes. Then you hop into a sauna for about 10 minutes, then back into the cold plunge for another three minutes. And to end the session, you submerge yourself completely, dunking your head and face into the cold water.

The cold plunge itself is…less than pleasant. There are parts that are straight painful. But the feeling after? It's so, so worth it. For hours after the plunge, I feel alert, energized, and focused. I'm able to be fully present at work, which means I'm getting more done in less time. Plus, I feel happier, which definitely makes my experience at work a more pleasant one.

What started off as just another bad idea on my bad idea brainstorm list has now become a part of my routine.

Take tap dancing lessons: embrace incompetence

I like feeling competent. Who doesn't? And while there's nothing wrong with that, often, my desire to feel competent keeps me from trying new things or developing new skills—both at work and in my personal life.

That's why, when I had the idea to take a dance class, I knew that, while it might not be the easiest "bad" idea for me to pursue, it had the potential to push me out of my comfort zone and contribute to my personal and professional growth. So I bit the bullet and signed up for an adult beginner's tap dancing class at a local studio.

My tap shoes!

And honestly? It's been great. Doing something completely new and different (without pressuring myself to be "good" at it) has helped me to step into a beginner's mindset. That beginner's mindset is certainly helpful as I'm learning how to shuffle-ball-change my way across the dance floor, but it's also helped me to think differently about my work

Instead of expecting myself to succeed at everything work-related, I'm giving myself more space to be a beginner. I'm exploring the potential of launching new services for my clients (and maybe even pivoting to a new business model), pitching clients in new niches, and exploring topics that are outside of my area of expertise—all of which are making me feel more creative, curious, and inspired at work.

Stop thinking my way is the right way: delegate more

As a major type A personality, I often operate under the thought process, "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." It's not a correct thought process, but it's how I usually think.

That way of thinking has absolutely hurt my work. I have a hard time letting go of control and delegating work, which has made it harder to grow and scale my business. I struggle to go with the flow when a client has a different process for getting things done. And since I'm the only one I trust to get things done right, I often find myself drowning in tasks and to-dos—which leaves me feeling depleted and overwhelmed.

In one of my bad idea brainstorms, I had a truly brilliant idea: to make an effort to stop thinking that my way is the right way.

This hasn't been an easy process for me. My drive to control and micromanage stems from fear—fear that if I let other people help me or take things off my plate, things won't get done in the way I need them to (or get done at all). But just acknowledging those feelings when they come up—and making a conscious effort to challenge those feelings—is having a positive effect. I'm offloading more tasks that I don't really need to manage. I'm trying to be more accommodating to different work styles and processes. I'm giving people space to do things their way, even if it's not the way I would do it myself.

This whole process definitely feels uncomfortable, but it also feels brave—and necessary. As I think about exploring a new direction for my business (thanks, tap dancing!), that direction will require me to let go of even more control as I grow my team and manage more people. Implementing this idea feels like the perfect practice for what's next.

Bad ideas have gotten me this far—and I plan to keep using them

When I started my bad idea brainstorms, I wasn't sure if they would have a measurable impact on my business or if the whole process would be its own bad idea. But so many of the "bad ideas" that came from these brainstorms have turned out to be very, very good ideas—ideas that have changed my business (and my life) for the better. 

I feel like I'm in a much better place in my business now, and I have no plans to stop my bad idea brainstorms. Instead, I'll be continuing to brainstorm as many bad ideas as I can to be better and braver at work.

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