84 Sanctity of the Half-Baked Idea

Progress can be slowed, and sometimes stopped, when team members are reluctant to offer ideas that appear at first sight to be half-baked. Strong teams make it safe to voice unfinished ideas; many teams encourage this practice. If the idea in its original form is not perfect, it can be improved—but only if it is allowed to have its day in court.

Half-baked ideas play a part in project life and should be thought of as something to be protected and nourished. For example, brainstorming sessions and other creative workshops can only work if team members feel safe to blurt out whatever they come up with, no matter how incomplete, seemingly impossible, or downright harebrained the idea may seem. Further, they can say what’s on their mind without fear of personal criticism or ridicule. Experience shows us that even the most half-baked of ideas, when respected and allowed to live, sometimes turn into valuable commercial products.

Allowing half-baked ideas to develop might require a change of behavior. Some people, teams, and for that matter, organizations, have a habit of trashing any idea that is not immediately and obviously viable. Anyone wishing to propose an idea has to think it through, ensure it is watertight, and then propose it in a way that makes its value immediately evident to everybody. With anything less than that, the proposal is a dead duck. By forcing all ideas to be fully formed before they are aired, the organization is denying the benefits of group improvement and choking off what should be a steady stream of project innovations. Most ideas can benefit from having several minds working to improve them.

Humans are better at improving things than they are at inventing things, and almost any idea can be improved—if you keep at it. Understandably, not all team members are great inventors, and not all are as articulate as they would like to be. Tentative ideas are debated— sometimes vigorously—and it is through team discussion that the idea matures and improves. Naturally, not all ideas make it through the debating chamber, but all of them are given a chance.

Ideas are free. Unless time is incredibly short, why rush to discard ideas if they are not immediately viable? All that is needed is also free: a culture in which team members feel able to propose half-baked ideas.

James Dyson’s half-baked idea, the centrifugal vacuum cleaner, took 15 years and more than 5,000 prototypes to come to commercial fruition. One Dyson model is now the best-selling vacuum cleaner in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, and Australia, and another is the best-seller in Japan.