What Would a Fool Say?

Good ideas are hard to come by—especially when we try. However, to come up with good ideas, we don’t need to seek them out. Nor do we need to wait for them. Instead, if a person wants a good idea, they just need to generate a bunch of regular ones. This is because, as Malcolm Gladwell states in a 2011 article in The New Yorker Magazine, “Quality,” is “a probabilistic function of quantity.” What that means is that if a person produces a bunch of ideas, there is a good chance that one will be OK. If one practices, and by this I mean generates a lot of ideas all the time, one will have a fairly decent chance of creating a good one. It’s like picking figs from a tree. The more figs you pick the more likely there will be a really good one in the basket.

People don’t often follow this kind of approach when generating ideas because they are worried that all the bad ideas lying around will somehow hinder the production of good ones. People regularly won’t even write down bad ideas in their own journals. This fear is why good ideas are hard to come by.

One way around this fear is a strategy called “What would a fool say?” The goal behind this strategy is to generate as many goofy or stupid ideas about a subject as possible. Hence the title “What would a fool say?” It is an easy strategy that works surprisingly well because everyone has plenty of dumb ideas. But what is most surprising about this strategy is that once it’s over, there are usually some great ideas in the mix. And they are usually ones that one could not have generated otherwise.

It goes like this. Pick a topic—any topic and apply a series of what would a fool… questions to it. If the topic were traffic one could use the following:

  • What would a fool say about traffic?
  • What would a fool do about traffic?
  • What would a fool do to fix traffic?
  • What would a fool do to make traffic worse?
  • What would a fool think causes traffic?
  • What would a fool recommend to other drivers in traffic?
  • What would a fool do while in traffic?
  • What would a fool do to eliminate traffic?

After having these goofy ideas on the table other ideas, in comparison, seem so much better and flow easier. I often use this in class when students are stuck. They’ve never had problems generating nonsensical ideas and once their energy and enthusiasm for the subject is back, they go on to create really insightful solutions without much effort. Often times though, one of the foolish ideas is actually the best. All one has to do to drop their guard and think like a fool.

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