You’ve heard it said often enough; hell, you’ve probably said it yourself dozens of times, I know I have. And in some ways I still think it’s true: an idea is just a thought, a mental spark. It’s neither good nor bad until someone translates it into reality.

I’ve come to think of ideas the same way a chef thinks of ingredients; it’s meaningless to say paprika is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – it’s what you decide to do with it that determines the final value. It’s good on chicken, bad on ice cream and left to itself it’s just… paprika.

Maybe what we call a ‘bad idea’ was just a harmless notion that got turned into a bad action by way of a bad decision. Was the Brady Bunch Movie a bad idea… or a bad decision?

It’s context that ultimately proves whether an idea was good or not; even a ‘brilliant’ idea is worthless if it stays in someone’s head. And an ‘awful’ idea is fine so long as we don’t make the mistake of turning it into an awful reality.

You can’t really evaluate an idea until it becomes a decision… which means I’d have to accept that there’s no such thing as a ‘good idea’ either.

Sometimes it’s just a question of timing. When it first appeared in 1926, people went crazy for sliced bread (and 87 years later we’re still saying ‘the best thing since sliced bread’) but it’s worth remembering that the pop-up toaster had hit the stores five years earlier, thereby creating a brand new demand; the need for uniformly sliced bread. Good idea or just good timing?

The helicopter looked like a good idea after the Second Industrial Revolution but must have seemed crazy back in the Renaissance, when Leonardo was pitching it to the Medicis.

It’s one of the great lessons of history; given the right context and timing, even ‘crazy ideas’ can transform society for the better. Leonardo’s ‘gyrocopter’ was not a bad idea… it just turned up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A bit like the Brady Bunch Movie.

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Written by Jason Clarke

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Celebrated author, adventurer, gold medal Olympian and popular TV chef; Jason is none of these things. He is, however, one of the most sought-after creative minds in the country. As founder of Minds at Work, he’s helped people ‘think again’ since the end of the last century, working with clients across Australia in virtually every industry and government sector on issues ranging from creativity and trouble shooting to culture change and leadership.