Your Idea is Stupid

How to tell someone their idea is stupid

One of the simple yet impactful struggles I have is to shut down an idea. As a developer, and I often try to tell people what I do, many people often try to validate their ideas with me. Some are friends, some are family, some are clients, the moment they hear programmer they think apps, VR, games, and what not. And then they tell me their ideas with the eagerness to impress.

I don't want to imply here that because I work in this field, I am inclined to have a better judgment than most. Let me make it clear now, I do not have a better judgment then others because I am a programmer. But as someone who has been working in this field, as someone who is a problem solver, I do tend to not get excited by one-liners. So when I hear a new idea, I like to analyze it. I like to put it down on a board, and turn it into a visual project. I like to see a non-biased scenario where a person goes through the process of using the app, website, or product. I like to find the faults and strong points. That's how I like ideas.

A few month ago, a client called with an idea to turn into a product. He was serious and had the money for it. I'm sorry I cannot tell you what it is, but I firmly believed it is the stupidest thing I ever heard in my life. There is stupid because you believe no one wants that, there is stupid because you don't understand it, and then there is stupid because you can press a few keys on the keyboard and you will have created a better product*.

The *

If you have MS word type the following:
1f4a9 Alt+x

Here is the thing, it is hard to tell someone their idea is stupid. It is hard because people have the tendency to believe they are unique and creative. Saying such thing can deeply wound a person. At the same time, what if the idea is actually stupid? Sometimes I want to be mean and just tell it how it is. But I try to remind myself that I am not some sort of moral authority that filters good ideas from the bad.

I once read that If someone takes the time to tell you about their amazing idea, he must have thought it was important enough to come tell you about it. So instead of shutting it down, it will be Kinder to let him down gently.

So when I hear an idea that I think is stupid, here are a few things that I do:

  1. No ideas are stupid. A lot of things we use today were called stupid, yet here they are. (iPod anyone?)
  2. Let the person explain. One thing I learned from stackoverflow is that people like to ask for help before they know what help they need. Ask them to explain the idea as they would to a 4 year old, and they will end up better understanding the idea and see the flaws themselves, or convince you.
  3. Tell them what you do. Remind them that a programmer, or developer, is not someone that knows if an idea is good or bad. What he can tell you is if it's technically feasible or not.
  4. Change the subject! Change it from being "Is it a good idea?" to "What are people with this problem you solve currently doing?"

Many times when someone wants to know if an idea is good or bad, he hasn't done any research. Only thought about it. Your job is not to tell him if it's good or bad either. Sometimes it’s just to make conversation and make time pass. What's the point putting people down if it was only a thought experiment? And isn't all of life just a sack of meat going through a thought experiment?


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