Thursday, February 3, 2011

Try the Bad Version of an Idea

In reading a WSJ article a week ago from Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, I was struck by his concept of the “Bad Version.” This is a technique used in screenwriting to help come up with new concepts. His essay was on ways to tax the rich and make them feel good about it. (It is pretty funny, but don’t click over until you finish this post!)

Adams’ words on the Bad Version: “I spent some time working in the television industry, and I learned a technique that writers use. 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.”

What a great concept. As I think about adaptability and a Plan B mindset, one of the best ways to work through an idea is to brainstorm lots of different ways that it can work from a curious point of view. In an earlier post I talked about replacing “why it can’t” with “how might it work?” This is another great idea.

In Adams essay he suggested bad version ideas such trading time for money. For instance, should the government allow anyone above a certain tax rate to use the car pool lane without a passenger or park in a handicap spot or get to the front of the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles? He also suggested a bad version of gratitude by arranging for people who use government health care services to write a thank you note to someone in the top two percent of taxpayers, explaining that when the dollars are personalized, they are harder to gripe about. He discussed ways of raising revenue through shared pain, incentives and additional power. Some interesting thoughts, but the important point was the process.

How could you use the "bad version" process to improve your product or business? I suspect many of these ideas might actually have turned out not to be just a bad version and have been implemented in real life. For instance, as I went through security on my most recent flight, I was able to use the Sky Priority lane because I fly quite a bit with Delta. Could you change the way you charge your customers – what if you charged a surcharge for our pain in the rear customers or gave a discount to our nice ones? Could you change how you deliver your product – what if you had monkeys answer the phones? Oh wait, a couple of companies I know have already implemented that one! The solution isn’t important; it’s the dialogue that begins to change the mindset.

The point of the bad version is to look from an entirely different vantage point to the problem you have and think of all of the possible ideas. Fixating on the problem and ideas that work will never move you forward. Only by changing your perspective can you begin to see solutions.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post, Jeff. I'm always "trying" to come up with new ideas for projects and your post just provided me with a new technique. Enjoyed your Delta example, too. Keep up the good work!

    --Mike Lawson