When an Idea Is Bad

“We’d ask that whether you’re talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward.” Those words, calling for the quiet burial of the Chevy name, recently ricocheted off the computer screens of thousands of General Motors employees, creating an emotional tsunami among Chevy loyalists. Needless to say, the counsel expressed in this General Motors internal memo was soon branded a bad idea by the company’s top brass. Like the New Coke, the Edsel, the Flobee, and Pizza Cones, this “bury the Chevy name” farrago joins a pantheon of bad ideas.
As a creative director, I’ve been schooled to embrace one the tenets of successful brainstorming: “There are no bad ideas.” Who have we been kidding all these years? After some 25 years of participating in or facilitating ideation sessions, I’d like to proclaim that there ARE bad ideas, really, really bad ideas. Session after creative session can produce enough megabytes of moronic malware to fill a Guatemalan sinkhole. 
A while back, a leading maker of mouthwash conducted a survey to identify the “least kissable person in America.” When Rosie O’Donnell’s name topped the list, her wrath wreaked havoc on that mouthwash and boosted the sales of a competing brand. Surely someone knew that the “least kissable survey” was a bad idea. Indeed, creative facilitators hear ideas ad nauseam that are ill-suited to a brand’s objectives. The facilitator’s challenge is to quickly acknowledge the idea and then steer the conversation to a more strategic place. I’m not suggesting that we call out bad ideas and put a dunce cap on its originator. But we shouldn’t spend undue and valuable time “building out” ideas that we know instinctually would never work. 
It’s time we recognize the elephant in the room: bad ideas. Without destroying the fragile egos of the people we’ve corralled, we need to use intuition, insight, and common sense to shift those ideas from fail to sail.