Skip to main content

Well, That was a Bad Idea


I was listening to Giselle Aldridge and Paul Merrill on the Reflection as a Service podcast one morning this week as I walked to work. They were talking about ideas in entrepreneurship, assessing their value, when and how and with who they should be discussed, and how to protect them when you do open them up to others' scrutiny.

I was thinking, while listening, that as an entrepreneur you need to be able to filter the ideas in front of you, seeking to find one that has a prospect of returning sufficiently well on an investment. Sometimes, you'll have none that fit the bill and so, in some sense, they are bad ideas (for you, at that time, for the opportunity you had in mind, at least). In that situation one approach is to junk what you have and look for new ideas.  But an alternative is to make a bad idea better.

I was speculating, as I was thinking, and listening, that there might be heuristics for turning those bad ideas into good ideas. So I went looking, and I found an interesting piece by Alan Dix, a lecturer at Birmingham University, titled Silly Ideas:
Thinking about bad ideas is part brainstorming, but more important about learning to think about any idea, new good ideas you have yourself, other people's existing ideas and products.
Dix suggests that deliberately (stating that you are) starting with bad ideas is itself a useful heuristic. You are naturally less attached to bad ideas; they can provoke you into trains of thought that you might not otherwise have encountered; you will have more confidence that you can improve them; they will likely generate more questions and challenge your assumptions.

He gives a set of questions for interrogating an idea, something like a SWOT analysis:

  • what is good about it? in what contexts? why?
  • what is bad about it? in what contexts? why?
  • in what contexts it is optimal?
  • how would you sell it? how would you defend it?

For me, a key aspect of this analysis is the focus on context. An idea is not necessarily unequivocally good or bad. Aspects of it might be good, or bad, or better or worse, in different scenarios, for different purposes. Dix invites you to discover in which it might be which and for which. To draw another parallel, this feels akin to factoring.

Armed with data about the idea, you can now look to change it in ways that keep the good and lose the bad, and maybe change the context or manner in which it's used. Or throw it away completely and use the learnings you have from the domain to make a fresh start with a new idea.

The new idea I like best here is that of starting from a point that you assert is bad. I've encountered similar suggestions before: that functional fixedness can be reduced by starting a familiar process from an unfamiliar situation, that in brainstorming you shouldn't reject ideas as you come up with them, and that of not evaluating until you have options in the rule of three.

I enjoy ideas simply for the sake of having them. I am fascinated by the way in which ideas spawn ideas and by the way that connections are made between them. I celebrate the fact that multiple perspectives on the same idea can differ enormously. I particularly like exploring the ambiguity that can result from those perspectives at work, where the task is often to tease out and then squeeze out ambiguity, or for fun, making up corny puns. And corny puns are never a bad idea.
Image: ITV News

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Can Code, Can't Code, Is Useful

The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "If testers can’t code, they’re of no use to us" My first reaction is to wonder what you expect from your testers. I am immediately interested in your working context and the way

Meet Me Halfway?

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "Stop answering my questions with questions." Sure, I can do that. In return, please stop asking me questions so open to interpretation that any answer would be almost meaningless and certa

Testing (AI) is Testing

Last November I gave a talk, Random Exploration of a Chatbot API , at the BCS Testing, Diversity, AI Conference .  It was a nice surprise afterwards to be offered a book from their catalogue and I chose Artificial Intelligence and Software Testing by Rex Black, James Davenport, Joanna Olszewska, Jeremias Rößler, Adam Leon Smith, and Jonathon Wright.  This week, on a couple of train journeys around East Anglia, I read it and made sketchnotes. As someone not deeply into this field, but who has been experimenting with AI as a testing tool at work, I found the landscape view provided by the book interesting, particularly the lists: of challenges in testing AI, of approaches to testing AI, and of quality aspects to consider when evaluating AI.  Despite the hype around the area right now there's much that any competent tester will be familiar with, and skills that translate directly. Where there's likely to be novelty is in the technology, and the technical domain, and the effect of

Testers are Gate-Crashers

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "Testers are the gatekeepers of quality" Instinctively I don't like the sound of that, but I wonder what you mean by it. Perhaps one or more of these? Testers set the quality sta

Postman Curlections

My team has been building a new service over the last few months. Until recently all the data it needs has been ingested at startup and our focus has been on the logic that processes the data, architecture, and infrastructure. This week we introduced a couple of new endpoints that enable the creation (through an HTTP POST) and update (PUT) of the fundamental data type (we call it a definition ) that the service operates on. I picked up the task of smoke testing the first implementations. I started out by asking the system under test to show me what it can do by using Postman to submit requests and inspecting the results. It was the kinds of things you'd imagine, including: submit some definitions (of various structure, size, intent, name, identifiers, etc) resubmit the same definitions (identical, sharing keys, with variations, etc) retrieve the submitted definitions (using whatever endpoints exist to show some view of them) compare definitions I submitted fro

Build Quality

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "When the build is green, the product is of sufficient quality to release" An interesting take, and one I wouldn't agree with in general. That surprises you? Well, ho

Make, Fix, and Test

A few weeks ago, in A Good Tester is All Over the Place , Joep Schuurkes described a model of testing work based on three axes: do testing yourself or support testing by others be embedded in a team or be part of a separate team do your job or improve the system It resonated with me and the other testers I shared it with at work, and it resurfaced in my mind while I was reflecting on some of the tasks I've picked up recently and what they have involved, at least in the way I've chosen to address them. Here's three examples: Documentation Generation We have an internal tool that generates documentation in Confluence by extracting and combining images and text from a handful of sources. Although useful, it ran very slowly or not at all so one of the developers performed major surgery on it. Up to that point, I had never taken much interest in the tool and I could have safely ignored this piece of work too because it would have been tested by

Am I Wrong?

I happened across Exploratory Testing: Why Is It Not Ideal for Agile Projects? by Vitaly Prus this week and I was triggered. But why? I took a few minutes to think that through. Partly, I guess, I feel directly challenged. I work on an agile project (by the definition in the article) and I would say that I use exclusively exploratory testing. Naturally, I like to think I'm doing a good job. Am I wrong? After calming down, and re-reading the article a couple of times, I don't think so. 😸 From the start, even the title makes me tense. The ideal solution is a perfect solution, the best solution. My context-driven instincts are reluctant to accept the premise, and I wonder what the author thinks is an ideal solution for an agile project, or any project. I notice also that I slid so easily from "an approach is not ideal" into "I am not doing a good job" and, in retrospect, that makes me smile. It doesn't do any harm to be reminded that your cognitive bias

Test Now

The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "When is the best time to test?" Twenty posts in , I hope you're not expecting an answer without nuance? You are? Well, I'll do my best. For me, the best time to test is when there

Play to Play

I'm reading Rick Rubin's The Creative Act: A Way of Being . It's spiritual without being religious, simultaneously vague and specific, and unerring positive about the power and ubiquity of creativity.  We artists — and we are all artists he says — can boost our creativity by being open and welcoming to knowledge and experiences and layering them with past knowledge and experiences to create new knowledge and experiences.  If that sounds a little New Age to you, well it does to me too, yet also fits with how I think about how I work. This is in part due to that vagueness, in part due to the human tendency to pattern-match, and in part because it's true. I'm only about a quarter of the way through the book but already I am making connections to things that I think and that I have thought in the past. For example, in some ways it resembles essay-format Oblique Strategy cards and I wrote about the potential value of them to testers 12 years ago. This week I found the f