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“What are some bad ideas? Literally, tell me the worst possible idea you can come up with” my professor said with confidence. I was perplexed. Why do we care about bad ideas? What is the purpose of using our creative energy on something that doesn’t matter? But, one by one my classmates voiced their terrible, no good, very bad ideas. 

There was no embarrassment in the room as we all shared a laugh and attempted to top the worst idea with something even more ridiculous. And you know what happened? In this judgment-free space, we developed our most brilliant ideas. The “bad idea exercise” sparked our creativity. It made us ask ourselves, “What if?” and it was beautiful. Our minds flourished through this stimulating activity that pushed us out of our comfort zones and into the land of “what ifs.” 

Education often lacks the opportunity to fail in a safe space: GPAs are on the line and grades determine our success. Yet in a space where failure was encouraged, we as students thrived. I’ve learned that nothing forms a better bond than partaking in embarrassing moments with others. Through making fools of ourselves, my classmates and I came together to find the solution to our problem; more importantly, we came together as a team. Nothing was off the table, and the gears started turning as we magically tweaked and twisted our bad ideas into great ideas. 

As a creative-minded person and borderline perfectionist, I often find myself shying away from failure. This activity made me uncomfortable because I only want to present my best ideas. Recently, I found myself encouraged by Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk, which speaks to the emotional investment we make as artists:

 “Ancient Greece and ancient Rome — people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then, OK? People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons…. they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.” 

While this concept seems far from factual, it’s reassuring and humbling to view our artistic ability in a divine sense, or as Gilbert explains, “if your work was brilliant, you couldn’t take all the credit for it, everybody knew that you had this disembodied genius who had helped you. If your work bombed, not entirely your fault, you know? Everyone knew your genius was kind of lame.”

Our elusive, creative geniuses come out to play when we make a conscious decision to start with failure. Our ideas cannot get any worse if we start at the bottom. So jot down your bad ideas and watch your mind blossom with inspiration! That is the power of bad ideas.

Lauren Kinder is a senior at Saint Louis University studying communication and marketing. She is passionate about St. Louis, social justice, storytelling, strong coffee, and singing in the car.
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