Do YOU Share Spielberg’s Attitudes towards Bad Ideas?

Most full-time members of Radical Nation know full well that I’m convinced that Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter — which has a new sister title aimed directly at tapping into the genius inside our schools — is a must read for anyone charged with leading organizations.

One of my favorite sections of Multipliers involves a summary of the reasons behind Steven Spielberg’s mad-crazy success in the highly competitive movie industry.  Speilberg, argues Liz Wiseman and Greg Mckeown, is a Liberator — a leader who intentionally creates workplace environments that allow talented individuals to do their best work.

Like many Liberators, Spielberg has an interesting attitude towards bad ideas.  Check out this quote:

(click to enlarge, download and find original image credit here)

Talk about empowering, huh?  By openly embracing the notion that bad ideas are important starting points — and by making that belief transparent to everyone on set — Spielberg frees his talent in two important ways.

Perhaps most importantly, people are far more willing to generate new ideas and to attempt to solve challenging issues when they work in an environment where failure isn’t seen as a character flaw.  What’s more, by sending the message that good ideas start as bad ideas, Spielberg is also making it clear that EVERY idea can be polished and improved.  His employees learn to push themselves — to question and to challenge and to search for SOMETHING better than ANYTHING they create right out of the gate.

Long story short:  If you’re trying to get the best out of your faculties or your students make failure less threatening.  Encourage risk taking and a spirit of never-ending intellectual revision by emphasizing the notion that bad ideas are important first steps towards something better.



Related Radical Reads:

Leadership Lessons Learned from Bridezillas

Hitting Home Runs 50 Feet at a Time

Want to Drive Change?  Lose the Bedazzler.

Original Image Credit: Steven Spielberg by Russell Thomas

Licensed Creative Commons Attribution on June 24, 2013

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  • ReneeMoore

    The Thinking / Writing Connection

    I’ve seen you mention this book before, but both of them just went on my Kindle wish list. 

    I absolutely agree with Spielberg’s attitude about bad ideas because I am a teacher of writing, and any writer or writing teacher knows that our thoughts have to go through multiple stages and revisions before they are either clear or ready to share. 

    We call that a writing process, and good writing requires and reflects good thinking. Good writing teachers also encourage our students to keep journals of their ideas, to not be afraid to try new forms or genres, and to engage in peer response and review of drafts as they are developing.

    Students in our Summer Readers Theater Camp at my church have been reading about George Washington Carver and his many experiments and hobbies. He tried many things, and had many failures. But he also had amazing successes. The applications of these ideas to teaching and learning for all of us are both logical and breathtaking. 

    • Bill Ferriter

      Sadly, Failure’s Not an Option! #sheesh

      I’m with you, Renee — encouraging kids to see the value in failing and in revising and polishing initial ideas is ESSENTIAL if we’re going to raise the generation of creative problem solvers that everyone is clamoring for — but in our “failure’s not an option” “race to the top” world, there aren’t a WHOLE lot of people who are ready to say that failing in any way is okay.


      I worry about that.  I’m convinced that our system is set up to reward the exact opposite of what we say that we want. 



      Buy Multipliers.  You’ll dig it.



      • KrisGiere

        Redefining Failure

        Renee is absolutely right, and as a fellow writing instructor, I find little more rewarding in my classroom than seeing a student realize that revision is the evolution of a piece of writing, not a correction of failure/error.  It is both empowering to the student and growth inspiring in the student’s writing.

        However, I think Bill has hit on something here, both in the article and in pointing out “failure is not an option.”  What came out of both the article and the comments for me was the question “Will we be allowed to redefine ‘failure’ in our society.”  Remembering that any word’s definition is dependent on frequency of use, I don’t see us successfully redefining failure into something that is accepted.  There are too many media references and pop-culture references to “failure” in a very negative way as well as the political views of the word to make fighting this fight seem reasonable.

        Obviously, this post and the comments have me thinking.  And at this stage, my thoughts are indeed a bit global.  So here is what I am wondering as of this moment:

        What I am wondering is whether or not we can redefine what grading in our classrooms look like, moving as an education culture from a right or wrong assessment process (9 out of 10 correct type of grading) to a mastery based assessment process (guiding students to revise/redo the assignment over and over until reaching proficiency with the skill or assignment at had and reviewing the lesson when necessary to clarify and using different explanation/teaching styles until we find the one that reaches each student).  This is a major shift.  I know that.  One that includes a variety of barriers to navigate.  But in the midst of a dire need for system reform, why not shoot for something bigger than a definition of a word?  Why not redefine our whole culture?


  • John Wink

    Risk Rich, Low Threat Environment

    Great bit, Bill. 


    I firmly agree that the environment that we must create to move bad ideas to good ones is a Risk-Rich, Low-Threat environment. Thank you for writing this bit. I plan to share it with my staff this August. 


    Keep fighting the good fight. 


  • ArielSacks

    Rhetoric around closing the achievment gap

    Bill, thanks for sharing this. I’m interested to read Multipliers now!  I agree with what Renee and Kris are saying, and I want to add to the discussion that a lot of the rhetoric we hear, esp. in urban public and charter schools, about closing the achievement gap is that “failure is not an option” and that there are “no excuses” for not succeeding–this is fed to teachers and students alike.  It’s a very pressure-filled, either/or kind of language, backed up with threats of judgement or worse. A student is either successful or failing. A teacher is either successful or failing kids.  (The reality is obviously more complex.)

    In the landscape I’ve just descrobed, the antidote to failure for students is currently presented through the concept of grit, and for teachers it’s presented through the tasks of analyzing data and “reteaching” concepts for those who failed.  It feels divorced from the idea that there are conditions that bring about learning, risk-taking, creavitity, and threats and labels are anti-thetical to creating those conditions.  We don’t all arrive at understanding or skills in the same way at the same time.  We don’t all want exactly the same things either.  Sad, thinking how many kids are growing up with this ideology–and teachers are learning to teach under this pressure.  I wonder what will come of it.

    Looking forward to reading multipliers!