Not because of the Dilbert comic strip that made him famous. No, because of his contributed piece in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. (Apologies if the link doesn't work. Blame Rupert Murdoch.)
In it, Scott offers a series of “bad ideas” for how solve a seemingly intractable problem: How can we make high earners willingly pay a greater proportion of their income in federal taxes?
No easy trick.
He makes his case through the use of a brainstorming technique that those of us in public relations, marketing, graphic design and other creative fields have used since the dawn of time. He learned this technique from writers while working in the television industry, and he explains it thus:
It's called "the bad version." When you feel that a plot solution exists, but you can't yet imagine it, you describe instead a bad version that has no purpose other than stimulating the other writers to imagine a better version.
For example, if your character is stuck on an island, the bad version of his escape might involve monkeys crafting a helicopter out of palm fronds and coconuts. That story idea is obviously bad, but it might stimulate you to think in terms of other engineering solutions, or other monkey-related solutions. The first step in thinking of an idea that will work is to stop fixating on ideas that won't. The bad version of an idea moves your mind to a new vantage point.
Adams then proceeds to outline a number of “bad ideas” — some ludicrous, others not all that bad — for incentives society could give the rich that would be tied to their willingness to pay a higher proportion of their income to Uncle Sam.
I’ll let you read his piece and draw your own conclusions.
The point of my post is to point out the value of the “bad idea” technique. You’ve probably heard that in a brainstorming session “there are no bad ideas.” Well, that’s just stupid. Of course there are bad ideas in a brainstorming session.
The point is to resist EVALUATING the bad idea, casting it aside before it’s had time to work its magic. When you visualize the bad idea and laugh (or groan), cracks in the creative granite are revealed. You can begin seeing new fissures in the problem that can open up the stone to reveal the “good idea”. And you never would have found that crack without the bad idea.
Adams did the world a favor by humorously and simply articulating the “bad idea” technique on the front page of the Review section. Next time you’re stuck, call in the brains and gin up some bad ideas.