Good Idea or Bad Idea?
Joel Saltzman

      Imagine you're in charge of a hypothetical Suggestion Box. Review the following five ideas and judge for yourself: Good Idea? Or Bad Idea? Once you've made your decisions, see how you rate on the Idea Prognosticator Scale -- a pseudo-scientific measurement of your ability to sniff out the good ideas and toss out the bad ones. (Remember: Keep your eye on your own paper and do not skip ahead to the Answers section before responding to each of the five suggestions below.)

Suggestion #1: A concrete boat.
___ Good idea
___ Bad idea

Suggestion #2: Cat litter for dogs.
___ Good idea
___ Bad idea

Suggestion #3: A seeing eye pony.
___ Good idea
___ Bad idea

Suggestion #4: A Canadian man, facing seven years in an American jail for robbing an upstate New York bank, wants a discount on his sentence to account for his country's weaker exchange rate against the U.S. dollar.
___ Good idea
___ Bad idea
___ Criminally insane

Suggestion #5: When a married couple is having a disagreement, it's a good idea for one of them to shout, "Oh, shut up!"
___ Good idea
___ Bad idea
___ Quick, run for cover!

Idea Prognosticator Scale
The correct response for Suggestions 1-5 (above) is Good idea!
To learn more, read on.

#1: A concrete boat?
Good idea! Since 1985, the American Society of Civil Engineers has held the National Concrete Canoe Competition. The contestants? Engineering school students who compete over a 200-meter course. What makes 'em float? Good hull design and innovative concrete mixtures that need to contain at least 75% concrete.

#2: Cat litter for dogs?
Good idea! Currently being marketed is "Purina Secondnature, a unique litter training system for dogs."

#3: A seeing eye pony?
Good idea! And one that's in use. Miniature ponies weigh about 50 pounds and live a lot longer than dogs, about 35-40 years. In fact, an international poll revealed that "27% of respondents would prefer a guide horse if they required a guide animal."

#4: A sentence reduction based on the money exchange rate?
Good idea! (Sort of.) The court room scenario above comes from an article in The Los Angeles Times. While the District Attorney was unmoved ("I can't believe he believes that!") the man's argument -- as absurd as it was -- actually won him a delay in sentencing.

#5: Telling your spouse to "Shut up!"
Good idea! When my wife and I were vacationing in northern England, we stopped at a bed and breakfast run by an older couple. As the wife was telling us about the local attractions her husband made the near-fatal mistake of trying to get a word in edge wise -- to which his wife responded, in a high-pitched, yet very proper sounding accent: "Oh, shut up!" (And he did.)

Today, when my wife and I are having a disagreement -- and just before it escalates into a full-fledged battle-royale -- one or the other of us is often smart enough to call out, in a high-pitched mock British accent: "Oh, shut up!" Said with humor and affection -- an absolute must!-- it cuts the tension, gives us a giggle, and lets the other person know how both of us feel.
(For an audio version of that story, click on: Oh, Shut Up! )

As Einstein put it: "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."

What's the easiest way to spot a good idea? Usually, after the fact -- once some wild, outrageous idea has proven itself out in the world. As for a "bad idea," all it takes is a knee-jerk No way! reflex to snuff the creative flame. Easy, simple to execute, and quite often wrong.

When Chuck Jones and others were creating their famous Looney Tunes cartoons, they'd have regular meetings called "Big Yes" sessions. Attended by directors, story men, and animators, the rule was that every story idea or gag that was pitched could only be greeted with a Yes. As Jones explained, "For two hours . . . you could only contribute to the idea, and that meant that all negatives were out." People were free to offer changes or modifications but they had to focus on the positive.

Just as negativity can come from others, a devastating "No way!" can just as easily come from within. The problem is when someone -- even yourself -- fails to appreciate the value of an idea.

Remember Victor Kiam and his famous TV commercial ("I liked the Remington Razor so much I bought the company")? Years earlier, Kiam was offered the patent for Velcro for $25,000 but turned it down because he failed to see its potential. Today, Velcro is a component in over 5,000 products and a huge money-maker for someone else.

       Velcro? Bad idea!
       Pet rocks? Bad idea!
       The movie "Star Wars" -- initially rejected by 12 major studios? Bad idea!  

When creator Stan Lee first pitched the idea of Spider Man, his boss shot back: "Here I draw the line. People HATE spiders. [Besides,] teenagers can only be side-kicks, not superheroes." But stubborn Stan Lee refused to budge. Not only did Spider Man go on to become a legendary comic book hero, but forty years after that initial rejection the Spider Man MOVIE grossed an astonishing $800 million just six months after its release. (Déjà vu Update: The studio's initial reaction to the idea of Tobey Maguire playing the lead? Bad idea!)

America Online? Bad idea! -- recognized as such in 1985 when an investment banker, being approached for venture capital, responded: "It's a dog. You should take it out back and shoot it."
(Flash forward to 2003 and that "dog" may still live to have another day.) 

Imagine you're the head of a Hollywood studio and an animator pitches you on the idea of "a talking yellow sponge named Bob." Can you honestly say your knee-jerk reaction would be "Great idea!"?

How about a rock 'n roll song called, "I've Got You, Babe"? You'd have to hear it first? Cher did, the same day Sonny wrote it. As Cher tells it: "He played me 'I've Got You, Babe' and I said: 'Sonny, I don't think it's your best work.' And I went to bed." Later that year, Sonny's not best work went on to become their most popular hit.
Of course, not every "absurd" idea turns out to be a Good Idea. Many really are bad ideas! "Creativity," says Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, "is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." The trick -- the "art" of it -- is to not say No so quickly, to not throw out a good idea just because you don't "get it" the second you hear it, or it challenges some long-accepted way of doing things. (A horse-less carriage? Heresy!)

Good Idea or Bad Idea? Give it some time before you say No. And even more time before you say Yes.

Joel Saltzman is a speaker, facilitator and consultant who teaches people in business to Shake That Brain!® and discover solutions for maximum profit. His first book was deemed a Bad idea! by 14 publishers before Warner Books said Good idea! and sold 70,000 copies.
A former comedian and the author of two Best Sellers,
he can be reached Toll Free at 877-Shake It! (877-742-5348)
Visit his website