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The McDonald's Theory of Bad Ideas (medium.com/what-i-learned-building)
442 points by drx on April 30, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 135 comments

Of course, there is the risk that everyone thinks McDonalds is a swell idea, and then no one will ever do anything nicer for lunch ever again. Not to stretch the analogy too far, but I have had this happen both literally and figuratively.

There's a fable warning about the problem of throwing out a suggestion because you think one needs to be made, and then everyone going along with it because it's what they think the group wants, when no individual actually wants to do that thing. It's called the Abilene Paradox: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abilene_paradox

Wikipedia is actually a great example of how getting something started can eventually lead to something much better. Here's the first version of that article: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Abilene_paradox...

That's what Wikipedia was like after it was created: random people writing a few words about some subject they thought they knew something about. It didn't seem like it would amount to much, at the time.

Maybe it hasn't amounted to as much as you think.

In addition to a great deal of general information substantially duplicating what you already could have found on the internet (much of Wikipedia is actually scraped/aggregated from elsewhere, which is the real use of crowdsourcing here), it's also jammed full of trivialities and utterly biased, misleading, politicized articles guarded jealously by special interest groups. All those interest groups together form one giant defensive cabal which rejects criticism of Wikipedia and is constantly begging for money to sustain itself. Because it's democratic, you see, and not dominated by those egghead academic experts (but rather by Wikipedia experts, who established their tenure by making an account and writing rarely-verified information to Wikipedia in a way that complied with the politics of Wikipedia incumbents).

Wikipedia could have put effort into seriously verifying incoming information, but that would have made it an elitist affair like academia. Or it could have seriously taken everything democratically, which would have made it a total populist mess. Instead it created its own insular oligarchy to tell everyone what is true or not. And the appointments of this oligarchy are utterly opaque, but they definitely aren't based on any combination of merit and democracy.

I disagree with your assessment that Wikipedia doesn't add value. It acts as an awesome aggregator and is usually a good place to start when learning about any topic. Im not going to play "name that fallacy", but your points against it seem weak to me. Of course its info is scraped and aggregated from other sources. Thats how information works. Thats normal even in academia. Im sure that on pages that don't have many watchers, a bad edit could go unnoticed for a long time, but this shouldn't be an issue for you, since you follow up on sources and practice critical thinking no matter what source you use .

So wikipedia is a low quality content farm that shows up for every google search and prevents actual expert pages from being seen--taking revenue and visibility from experts--while providing lower quality content.

And that's a good thing to you.

An unreliable encyclopedia is the most useless thing in the world. An unreliable encyclopedia with the most powerful SEO in history...is a grave threat to human knowledge.

This is an interesting take on it. What are some examples of experts that are being silenced?

Usually when people criticize SEO, its over the methods used to get irrelevant links on pages, putting junk in your serps. Afaik wikipedia does well because people link to its content, not because of spam tactics.

The experts aren't bing silenced, they just show up on the second page of google so get no hits.

The first page will often have literally 5+ links to wikipedia, and those articles will cite the never-visited reliable page but get a lot of the details wrong.

You're absolutely right that it's a cultural issue more so than a tech issue. Wikipedia marketing has managed to convince people that an amateur content farm should be the first stop for information. But why should your first stop be amateurs who often get it wrong?

Ask any academic how good wikipedia is for their specialty. It always ranges from "ok" to "terrible". And why would we expect anything else? How can amateurs be expected to understand, interpret, and report on reams of subtle developments in any area?

The best wikipedia articles are the ones that tend most toward plagiarism--literally just copying the words and concepts of an academic while barely rephrasing them to avoid copyright infringement. It's not worthwhile.

Meanwhile, every important article on wikipedia has a high quality, professionally written counterpart on Encyclopedia Britannica. What's the point of wikipedia?

For an easy example just search any topic in philosophy. Wikipedia comes up first. Read that, then read Stanford Encyclopedia, then read Encyclopedia Britannica.

Why is wikipedia the top hit? Because their SEO/marketing is overwhelming. It's definitely not due to quality! In contrast, the other two options being beat out by Wikipedia SEO are written by notable experts. The quality difference is enormous. EB and SEP can actually be relied on. On wikipedia you never know what important subtlety they got wrong.

Wikipedia is the eHow or expertsexchange of information. It's a drag on human knowledge. It needs to die.

I can't reproduce your results: I find typical searches give 1 or 2 links to Wikipedia on the first page. And if you add "-wikipedia" you can get rid of the lot.

I do realise Wikipedia is far from perfect. So many articles don't cite their sources, for example, or cite some personal website that doesn't cite any sources at all.

Understand that it isn't MY problem. I find it easy to avoid wikipedia because I know how to do things like -wikipedia.

But I'm not the vulnerable population. Most people don't know to do that, and just think wiki info is fine when it's not.

The results that give 5+ wikipedias on one search are usually long tailed.

Here's one search I just made up:

logic axioms encyclopedia

First 4 hits are wikipedia, all 4 of them are shit. If you just add -wikipedia the results are infinitely better. Therefore, wikipedia is a low quality content farm shitting up the Internet.

It also doesn't help that google, apple products and other services now directly prioritize wikipedia.


continental philosophy definition

Google first gives a big bold wikipedia box, presenting wikipedia info as if it is the fucking gospel.

Then the next hit is wikipedia.

Then the rest are a mix of reliable sites that wikipedia stole its content from, and wikipedia subsidiaries (Jimmy Wales affiliated) like Citizendium.

How is this considered ok? It's an intellectual travesty and a giant threat to public education. How many people will click the first link, or the giant google endorsed wikipedia box, and ignore all the reliable experts below it?

I just did your "logic axioms encyclopedia" search, it supports what you say about google giving preference to wikipedia. However, if you compare wikipedia's page to britannica's i think it undermines your argument against wikipedia's inferiority. Wikipedia not only has more information, but it also lists all of the contributors and has a complete list of citations. Britannica's banner ad plastered page featured only 3 paragraphs, no citations for deeper reading and no list of contributors to help you evaluate the content. I know this is just a sample size of one, but I think it shows that your opinion is extreme. As I said before, it doesn't matter where you get your info, you have to practice critical thinking and demand sources. I totally see where you are coming from, but i am not convinced that it is as bad as you are making it out to be. Imo, its the lack of education on how to evaluate information (this includes the ability to determine the "authority" of its sources) that is an intellectual travesty and a giant threat.

Britannica costs $5 a month. Their articles are excellent.

A free source written by top philosphers is Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy. That should be the first hit.

If Wikipedia wants to be a link farm with citations and links to every source on some topic, that might be an OK service. That's not what they are. They claim to be an encyclopedia. They get it 80% right, but 20% wrong is unacceptable for the world's go-to source for information. Especially when the better alternatives are just as accessible; they only lack SEO.

[Citation needed.]

As the guys who usual says "that's a swell idea", or "yeah, I'm down for some McNuggets" to really gross food decisions (masochism, I don't know), I personally love it when other folks throw out these "sequestration" choices because it's usually the only way to get everyone to go to McDonalds.

And that's how I discovered the McRib

I actually could go for some McNuggets right now.

Yeah it's a bad sign when all this post did was make me hungry.

haha amen.


Real ramen has nothing in common with those packaged noodles. A big bowl of ramen soup with lots of meat, seafood & a hardboiled egg is heaven.

See, what you do is buy the ramen packets, a bag of frozen shrimp, and a dozen eggs. Bring the water to a boil, let the ramen rehydrate, then crack an egg right into the pot. Add some frozen shrimp and let it sit for a minute, then break the yolk and stir. Cook until the yolk solidifies and serve.


It's probably a lot cheaper and easier to go and buy Chinese noodles if that is the end result.

Exactly. I can't even begin to tell you how many times something that was supposed to be "just be a prototype" made it to production this same way.

You bet. I'm working on an application that is a prototype and a legacy application simultaneously.

Me too.

I've wondered if there is any production software that wasn't "just a prototype"

There's nothing more permanent than a temporary solution.

So much wisdom packed into so few words!

If everybody (but you, presumably) is happy with McDonald's then the onus is on you to change their minds. The trick only works when there is a consensus to strive higher. If you fail to do that, then, eventually, you will have to say "screw you guys, I'll go to the ramen-place alone then".

If you had a better idea you should have started with it in the first place.

It should work equally well as a creativity trigger, and if nobody comes up with something different you still end up with a choice that's not so bad.

Indeed. Steve Jobs apparently said "The name of the company is Apple unless you can think of something better by tomorrow." And they couldn't.

If it backfires, then all you need to do is next time say "let's do something different".

Once a precedent has been established, it can be hard to change people's minds, especially if it was fast/easy/convenient the first time around. It really depends on the group.

I think it works well in the writer's case. He knows his audience and has probably worked with them long enough to know where they like to go to eat. He's not taking the risk of McDonald's every day. There wasn't a chance that would happen anyway because even if one or two person wanted to go to McDonalds two days in a row, the group would win out and override it.

If everyone thinks McDonald's is a swell idea, it probably is.

This means that either A) Lunch isn't as important as everyone seems to make it out to be , or B) McDonald's is "good enough" or C) some combination of factors including A and B that suggest worrying about where you are eating for lunch isn't worth any of your time today.

I use a technique like this when I am stuck trying to write code and can't figure out how to do it efficiently. I ask myself "what is the worst possible way to implement this function?" and start writing that. Sure enough, that gets my mind going almost immediately and I start thinking of the improvements needed to turn it into good code.

I do this too, except I call it a "rope bridge". Write the simplest thing possible, even if it doesn't do everything you need, and then start iterating. The rope bridge will quickly become much more solid.

The danger is that you leave the solution at too early a stage, and other things start relying on your flimsy rope bridge. It gets really difficult to go back and do things better.

That's test driven development sans the testing.

You should try test driven development :)

Or, maybe that's where the power of TDD comes from, and not from tests ;).

In my experience the tests work pretty well, as well.

and if you're already developing in a style that is amenable to TDD, you should totally try it!

Interesting how TDD is so close to TTD.

> Interesting how TDD is so close to TTD

For me, "TTD" in the context of a discussion about bridges just means Transport Tycoon Deluxe o_O I assume that's not it?

This is what's really happening with the McDonald's theory- it's a resetting of expectations by asking a different question. We can't ever figure out lunch because we're thinking "What would I really like to eat today?" and too often the answer is nothing. But if the question is, "What is better than McDonalds?" you might have some ideas. Even if you like McDonalds, this question is more concrete and answerable.

Haha, I know that feeling. "How on earth am I supposed to implement this?" usually turns into:

    for (int i = 0; i < alpha; ++i) {
        for (int j = 0; j < beta; ++j) {
            for (int k = 0; k < gamma; ++k) {

Excellent concept, and it works great.

Often you overcomplicate implementation by thinking about the right way from the start, and while this is a good thing to do in general, sometimes it gets in your way. I like to think of the simplest possible way to write it (not necessarily the "worst" but just the simplest). Then you have something, anything at all, and you can go from there.

My ex-coworker always said "Make it work, then make it good, then make it fast." Good rule of thumb that has taken me pretty far in code productivity.

Unfortunately, due to doing PHP professionally in a horrible legacy codebase, the answer is usually "Doing it at all". Sigh.


Test driven development.

As opposed to TTD, which is test to destruction.

Or DDT, which is development driven testing.

Or DMD, which is don't mean diddly.

There's never really anything new in IT. Looking at past revolutions of the eternal IT wheel the next article will be about Fred Brook's "second system effect" where a simple 1st choice like McDonalds for lunch inevitably leads to a ridiculously overengineered second solution in reaction, like a $300/plate steakhouse or perhaps a strange ethnic restaurant for lunch 90 miles away.

This article is basically a rehash of Fred Brooks "pilot system" concept where regardless of if they admit it or not, the first system design will be a throwaway which the team uses to gel their ideas around. Often the second system ends up like the above paragraph.

As far as I know Brooks was the first turn of this eternal IT wheel, and he wrote this in the mid 70s about his experiences in the 60s. I'm still young enough that I suspect most of what Brooks invented in the 70s will be rediscovered many more times before I retire. As far as I know Brooks was not rehashing someone previous to him, I'd be interested to learn if anyone has older references.

Its still a reasonably well written article, even if there's nothing new in it. Brooks's original writing is also pretty good, if you want to see the future of software development, what will be claimed to be "invented" over and over in future decades, you could do worse than "the mythical man month". The re-release is better than the original but not immensely so, so don't freak if your local library only has the first edition.

I read the article differently. The OP is suggesting failing faster by starting with an idea, any idea, just to get moving.

I've done something similar.

I was a new minted engineering manager. We had lotsa grumpy gate keepers. Domain experts who would withhold information, but happy to snipe later on.

So when it wasn't clear (to my immediate team) what to do, I'd add something really stupid, but plausible, to the requirements. Then claim the document was being sent to our dealer channel.

Oh boy! Then I'd get the feedback I needed.

Sounds similar to the "duck technique", even if the provoked reactions rely on different motivations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_law_of_trivialit...

Your description of Brooks's "pilot system" is better than my own, although longer.

Maybe the concept is not new, but the example he uses is brilliant. Everybody eats, everybody has at one point or another tried to democratically decide where to eat, and everyone that likes food dislikes/hates McDonalds. The article is funny, it anchors the idea to a global brand, and so it will be easy to remember for anyone who reads it.

I feel as if you read this as simply a rehash of known techniques, and what I saw was a light hearted/entertaining story, that anyone can relate to and take value from.

This is really the availability heuristic (basically that the information that is most readily available seems most accurate or likely to be true).

When smart people explain complex subjects clearly and confidently we have the tendency to say "oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense." In reality nothing is always true but that doesn't necessarily mean it isn't good to fool ourselves into thinking so. In fact it's probably how progress is made. If people knew how hard most things were going to be at the outset, they'd never start and look for something easier to do.

Where would you recommend one look for a collection of this wisdom? Brooks is one example, what are others? Where would one look to find a cannon of this type of thing?

The mythical man-month is one, and peopleware is another, then there is innovators dilemma. These three cover it all pretty well.

I don't see this as a creative concern.

Does anyone really think this group of coworkers, which almost surely eats something, somewhere eat day needs "inspiration" that they are truly bereft of ideas when this happens?

I don't.

They aren't out of ideas, they're avoiding blame - the inevitable bitching, disagreement or silent resentment that comes with making a choice.

It's the same blame culture that screws up any number of workplaces only worse as there may be nothing so pressing and universally felt as something like the human need for sustenance.

Projects are put off for days, weeks or years and they aren't universally felt when they remain undone. Individuals can't necessarily act to satiate themselves either, that could make them "cowboys".

In the original analogy, silence is complacency, the stream of ideas is a reactive response and the question should really be about how to eliminate the blame culture and replace it with something proactive and productive.

Having been in this same situation at work and at home, I have to disagree with you.

We go out to lunch several times a week, and unless someone is craving something, it almost always comes down to this. We use Subway instead of McDonalds, but the result is the same.

There is no blame, we honestly can't think of where to eat until some idea is thrown out there. Then all of a sudden we remember that mexican place in the park, or the new burger joint that opened up a few weeks ago. We throw out suggestions and if we all agree, then we go. It just takes a little push to get the ball rolling.

Seems a bit much you all should consistently be unable to "think of where to eat" when the question is asked "several times a week".

Does this pervasive forgetfulness show up everywhere in your lives?

If so, you guys should probably be mulling over doctors, not lunch. If not, you might want to reconsider what I've suggested and why you so consistently "forget" in socially arbitrated situations.

Speaking of investigating life choices, you're coming off like an asshole. You might want to reconsider the way you talk to people.

Here's the summary:

1. A post uses food as a metaphor* to make a point.

2. You basically say bullshit to the food, then rant about life.

3. Someone says "I dunno if it's BS, I've experienced this!"

4. And you say "then there's something wrong with you".

Fuck you, buddy.

*I'm the guy who wrote the essay, and for the record it was referring to a bunch of foodies in a design studio who were a few blocks from Pike Place market. It was Hick's Law in action. Frequently.

>You might want to reconsider the way you talk to people.

That's amusing to see in a post where you've included both an "asshole" and a "fuck you".

>Here's the summary:

More like an angry oversimplification.

1&2: I think your post actually goes in two directions, finding individual motivation and catalyzing group motivations. The latter is what I chose to comment on.

3&4: The commentor offered an anecdote, I asked him to think critically about what he's saying versus experiencing. You've taken it upon yourself to assume a very specific response and quote it as a statement - ridiculous.

My coworkers used to call these "straw horses". Like straw men, but attacking them is supposed to take you somewhere.

This is a well known psychological effect. The "powers that be" use it all the time to force their will on an initially resisting population. They first propose an obviously draconian and unfair legislation, which is then, after a public outcry, mellowed down to the originally intended form. Hey presto, everyone is now happy about "the concessions and safeguards", forgetting that in the process they got something that they never wanted in the first place.

In sales this is known as the anchoring effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchoring

You're describing the overton window http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

Rather, SagelyGuru is describing how to manipulate an Overton window.

AKA "Ask for the pony to get the dog".

That's called compromise.

> people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones.

Interesting theory, but I think something else is happening here.

If you have a bunch of people trying to solve a problem, the game is implicitly defined as "propose the best solution." After the first proposal, the game changes to "improve on the best solution so far."

This is something to keep in mind during interviews [1] for people on both sides of the table. If a candidate is silent for too long, propose a bad idea and ask them to improve on it. That gets them talking out loud, and you get more info to go on. If you're a candidate, you can start with a bad (yet probably obvious) solution and explain why it's bad. In the process of talking it through, you'll likely think of a better solution.

[1] The algorithm/coding one-big-question-over-45-minutes style of interviews commonly conducted by large software companies.

+1. I think the same. People, esp. smart people judge their ideas as not so good, and won't even mention it. When you bring up McDonalds, the person suddenly thinks: Hey, I didn't know the bar was that low.

NASA has spaceflight designs, and there are a lot of variables at play, so you can never really find "the best" mission.

So they create a reference mission, and then compare candidates to that. Something doesn't have to be strictly better (if there were something strictly better they probably would have found it), but you then understand the trade-offs you are making from it.

Related hack:

When you can't make progress and choose between two comparable options, Dan Ariely (behavioral economist) recommends you flip a coin. As you flip it, the impact of a potential decision might prompt you to realize the outcome you truly want.

However, there is a caveat: "The coin trick is indeed only useful for cases where the two options are of the same type (two cameras, two movies, etc). In your example, one option is more tempting in the short term (chocolate cake) while the other is better in the long term (fruit). In such cases we should not trust our gut feelings to drive us to the best decisions."


Piet Hein wrote a grook about this. It essentially says "don't look at what the coin flip says; look at how you feel about the result of the flip."

This is the Arnold Rothstein method of decision making, as seen on Boardwalk Empire.


A related trick to avoid procrastination: I have often found myself procrastinating when needing to send an important, but non-urgent, email. Procrastination is often a result of fear. I realized that the procrastination came from a fear that I would phrase the email wrong, or get the tone wrong, and blow my chance at getting a favorable response. To avoid procrastination, I find it helpful to tell myself, "ok, I will just compose the email right now, that is all, and I can send it whenever I want tomorrow, the next day, no hurry." Of course, after composing the email, I almost always get over the fear and just end up sending it.

That is an excellent productivity tip that can be applied to anything. I think what helps, especially for hackers, is to think of activities as a series of simulations before the actual action. There is less pressure when you were on sims, or drafts, or prototypes of the real thing. Such things can fail with far less consequences. So I guess rapid prototyping is one cure for procrastination.

My take on this is that it is effective because it reduces peoples fear of suggesting an idea.

We all feel something for our own genuine suggestions, a sort of ownership, and so fear the possibility of rejection as it would be a rejection of something personal to us, our preference.

When someone suggests a universally and whole heartily rejected idea we can take a degree of security from that that our idea will not be as universally disliked; "Well it's not as bad as McDonald's"

It's also possible that it just gets the "flow" going, which again is more to do with removing peoples fears i.e. "well, he suggested an idea and it wasn't so bad for him so I may as well suggest one as well"

I get the theory behind recommending the worse idea so that people recommend something that isn't nearly as bad but what is so bad about McDonald's? Here in Australia there aren't many fast food establishments opened at 3am besides McDonald's and when you're driving to work or had a night out on the town which is worse: dodgy kebab, slightly warm 3 day old curry or McDonald's?

I tend to use a similar tactic when we're brainstorming internal project ideas especially. I'll come up with something really stupid to break the ice and then others feel better knowing their ideas probably aren't nearly as bad.

> what is so bad about McDonald's? Here in Australia [...]

McDonald's Australia has excellent QA, process management and supply chain. I received some insight through someone...involved in all that good stuff (my background is QA/Environment so I get to meet some interesting people from various industries).

Coworkers from the US all tend to say the same thing after going to an AU McDonald's - great burgers but ~3x the price. It's a different beast in the US where quantity trumps quality.

Very well put. I can't speak for US McDonald's but Australian McDonald's where I worked in my youth for a bit had very strict QA processes. The store I worked at was in a low income area, but it was kept spotless, food was kept for the minimum amount of time (maximum 10 minutes for fries I think), burgers made to order.

In many neighborhoods I've been in in NYC, McDonalds was easily the cleanest and highest quality restaurant within convenient distance. It smokes most non-gourmet/artisinal establishments.

Nothing wrong with McDonald's in the states. The guy is probably some hippie who thinks he's too good for fast food. You know, the type who flairs his nostrils if he can't order his favorite bottle of wine at a restaurant.

(Not the author, just another McDonald's hater.) It's not an elitist thing at all. I think McDonald's is absolutely disgusting and no one should eat there, not that I'm above it. And I don't even drink wine.

McDonald's in Germany most certainly also. Fresh ingredients, clean restaurants, ...

What this doesn't change, though, is that their food (fries excepted) tastes like total shit. And their burgers taste like nothing. But it does so consistently.

I'm sorry, but my bad opinion of McDonald's is not based on the quality of their ingredients or their quality. It's based on taste.

The use of McDonalds as idiomatic low quality trash is questionable too, I've found McDonalds in Australia and New Zealand is significantly higher quality than in the US. While it's still not a luxury brand by any means the restaurants do have a much more sophisticated atmosphere.

I suspect there's a fairly high variance within the US, too. I've never had a crappy McDonald's food, but I'm usually in an upper middle class suburb or downtown Seattle when I go.

I'm from BC and have had mcdonalds from downtown/suburb seattle* and it is pretty different, definitely not as high quality imho and a different taste too.

Strangely having mcdonalds in eastern europe was more like canada then the US.

*last time was a few years ago

It's a local thing. Australian McDonalds might actually be OK. But it's also a question of alternatives, and in most cities (not suburbs) at lunchtime near where people work, there are a plethora of better options than McDonalds.

This reminds me of a very similar idea from Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert): http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870329320457610...

Quote: I spent some time working in the television industry, and I learned a technique that writers use. It's called "the bad version." When you feel that a plot solution exists, but you can't yet imagine it, you describe instead a bad version that has no purpose other than stimulating the other writers to imagine a better version.

I like McDonald's. It's cheap, consistent, and fast. I don't need to be a foodie for every damn lunch I have.

Maybe it is just Canada, but I have been lucky to get 1/3 of those qualities from McDonald's lately. A big mac (just the sandwich, nothing else) is $5, and isn't very filling. Every other fast food place around here is just as cheap or cheaper, and very few are as low quality and inconsistent.

It is hard to consider McDonald's the "cheap option" when a big mac and fries is $8, but a gyro and fries that taste way better, and are ~30% more food is $5 at the place across the street. McDonald's is actually the second most expensive fast food option I've found, only being cheaper than Mucho Burrito (which is far better food).

I've had two different experiences like this. The first is a co-worker that did a different tactic. When someone would ask him if he wanted to get lunch and no idea of where to go, he would ask "rice or noodle?" This somehow always lead us going to a place that had neither of those things.

From what I've seen, the inverse of this seems to also imply where a group will end up going for lunch. I've had co-workers say Costco or Taco Bell "isn't lunch". Because of those negative statements, that is exactly where the group ends up going.

This was also the idea behind the sequester... somehow good ideas aren't exactly flowing.

I am much more likely to be frustrated by really having a hankering for some McDonald's and everyone else being the sort of people who haven't had fast food in 10 years, if ever in their entire life (pretty much my entire team). I try to appreciate both the finer and coarser things in life.

The theory is correct, and I applaud the author for willing to be that guy, because if you do this too often you become the person who always has the worst idea.

And yet if the outing is good, the "worst idea guy" is always invited. Results matter.

Perhaps throwing out a bad idea like McDonalds just lowers the bar so that the others don't have to worry about being looked down upon for having a bad suggestion. No-one wants to be the guy who says "I really like X" while everyone else thinks "X? How low-status."

It certainly is easier to edit than create. You need at least one "creator" on a team with the initiative to get things going when they're stuck. After that, good "editors" can make for pretty effective team players also.

ps. This article hurt my feelings as an MCD stockholder. :)

Congress tried this...and we got the sequester.

If you are working by yourself, this trick only works sometimes. If you have extreme apathy against your subject matter or absolutely no idea on what you should do, then putting down a bad idea would just result in a bad idea written down, and there is nothing that follows. I only experience partial success with this technique (in cases, where I have some idea on what I am doing, but I am just debating internally about minor details).

The problem I have with this starts as soon as the author insists that the second step is "always" easier than the first, and implicates that first step as somehow being a time sink.

As soon add you say "always" you are almost certainly wrong, and you have most likely missed something important, or at least relevant. This article dismisses a huge breadth of ideas and processes simply because sometimes it is effective to skip them.

so s/always/often/ the fact remains that the first step is often the most difficult.

It's a pattern - applicable to any "analysis paralysis" scenario - break the ice by suggesting a lowest-common-denominator (bad) suggestion, and let others be the "winners" by suggesting "acceptable" choices.

By suggesting the unseemly, you actually end up doing the graceful thing.

Nice article. One factor that seems to overlook is the cost of an early decision that becomes impossible to change as the project matures as I descibe here: http://www.codingismycraft.com/2013/05/01/be-extra-cautious-...

Sort of like the interrogation technique demonstrated by the new "Sherlock": instead of asking questions that your opposite doesn't want to answer, make (false) assertions that they will want to disprove.

Seemed very plausible to me.

I happen to like McDonald's.

Surely everything after is considered a good idea, because the it was bad; even if suggestions were repeated prior and post suggesting mc donalds, that suggestion is suddenly considered a better idea...

I've worked on too many projects where I've received a spec and concluded that only a room full of people arguing without reaching agreement could have produced something so bad.

I like the article for it's "get started rather than waiting for the perfect solution". However the McDonald's example makes the author sound like he's advocating proposing bad ideas. It's probably best if you don't present ideas that are intentionally awful (like his McDonald's recommendation). You'd just be sabotaging your reputation (you're now "that guy with all the bad ideas").

Get to work and don't be afraid to propose ideas you have.

I wrote "here's a way to be less scared".

And you're saying "just don't be scared".


Here's the problem. If your team takes the time to really try and come up with something that everyone agreed they wanted to eat, then you all end up with a high quality lunch. If you just start with the worst idea and iterate from there you run the risk of getting something that has bugs in it which you don't even realize were there until much later when it's already too late.

Isn't this just a "straw man concept?" Just throw out some idea, even it it's bad just to get the conversation going?

It is very much a "straw man" argument -- the straw man being that the first suggestion has to be terrible. I've used this strategy many times, but instead I'll make an actual suggestion, like a more popular burger chain, or a sandwich chain.

I always thought starting a discussion with a deliberately bad plan works because people always excel at criticizing existing ideas, but coming up with something new is harder. Creative discussion naturally emerges when there is something that can be improved upon.

I like to think of brainstorming as a conveyer belt full of bad and good ideas. If you stop at the bad ones you don't let the good ones through either. You can't help what's on the belt, you just have to let it run.

Don't stop the conveyor belt.

Fantastic article. Love the Ann Lamott reference; read her book "Bird by Bird," from which the quote came; it really is great. Reading more into this article than "start with something and go from there" is reading too much.

touches nose

I tried that with my girlfriend. Doesn't work. We always dine at McDonald's now.

I throw out ridiculous ideas all the time, but the thing is, a lot of the time they are only slightly exaggerated. A lot of times a truly bad idea has some good idea hidden just beneath the surface.

I've done this online for a long time. I.e you start a forum thread but dont get any replies. Make a 2nd account replying a silly answer that is wrong - experts suddenly appear.

On the other hand, you're anchoring on the worst possible idea. Afterwards even barely mediocre will seem pretty great compared to the McD idea.

How bad is eating at McDonald's for you? If you just get a BigMac and diet coke, is it all that worse than any other food establishment?

You could also compare a McDonald's salad with a Subway sandwich.

Works until you're forced to build a PHP site with GDBM as a backend because everyone but you thought it was a good idea.

The rest of his staff will one day refer to him as "that guy who really seems to like McDonalds"

This is because the only thing worse than being a leader, is having bad leadership.

Article doesn't work in Opera Mini =(

I happen to like McDonald's every once in a while.

McDonald's may not be healthy, but I've never had anything from one that was gross.

(As an aside, many restaurants aren't necessarily any healthier than fast food.)

There are a few items on the menu specifically aimed at adults who would be otherwise reluctant to bring their children.

Children do love their happy meals though. There wouldn't be a plethora of these fast food places all over the world if the vast majority of people didn't like McDonald's. It isn't healthy to eat at everyday, but every once in a while is fine.

about once a year is already pushing it

You could eat there all the time if you wanted. They do sell salads....

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