Not All Bad Ideas Are Created Equal

David McCandless's cheeky "taxonomy of ideas" attempts to distinguish horrible ideas from horrible ideas with promise.

Some say ideas are everything. Others say ideas are cheap. David Lynch says ideas are fish. David McCandless of Information Is Beautiful took a closer look and tried to chart "a taxonomy of ideas" of a two-axis graph (much like New York magazine’s popular "Approval Matrix"). Any idea you’ve ever had should fit somewhere in these four quadrants.

The upper right zone is the promised land, the intersection of "functional" and "well-structured" ideas where everything from "genius" to "interesting" lies. ("Boring" is also in there on the border, but mostly it’s the good stuff.) The lower left (between "dysfunctional" and "poorly structured") is the idea graveyard where most self-flagellating creative types probably think they spend most of their time. It could be worse, though--right smack in the middle is the zero point, for "no idea" at all.

What the chart doesn’t capture, of course, is that ideas are motile, evolving creatures. They don’t just pop out of our heads in one form and lay there passively. Well, sometimes they do--but the key to getting ideas that live in that vaunted upper right corner isn’t simply waiting for "genius" to strike like lightning. Most ideas flop into existence somewhere near the center, or one of the axes: They’re young, half-baked, one-dimensional. Effort and work and willpower are what drags them into better territory on the graph. What might be not only interesting is to graph ideas themselves: After all, a bad idea might have the nugget of a good one contained within it. Likewise, a good idea invariably has bad stuff mixed in.

McCandless’s chart is a work in progress, an idea itself. Where would it sit in the "taxonomy of ideas"? Right now it’s probably somewhere between "neat" and "interesting." Maybe after a few iterations (McCandless openly solicits feedback on his site), it’ll inch a few more notches up- and rightward.

[via Information Is Beautiful; top image: Margo Harrison/Shutterstock]

Add New Comment


  • Kasper

    interesting idea. could be useful to track the progress of ideas. 
    But I don't think that the adjectives are correct... crazy for really functional and disfunctional?? 

  • Kasper

    interesting idea. could be useful to track the progress of ideas. 
    But I don't think that the adjectives are the way the fonts are not great... 

  • Kerrin Naude

    So "No Idea" falls in the middle of the continuum between an idea with a good structure and and idea with bad structure? Likewise for the other axis? Not convinced - nice idea though.

  • Nick Miede

    Function maybe needs better definition, otherwise I'm not sure the spectrum holds. If the function of an idea is to make someone laugh, then funny actually belongs in upper-right quadrant (for well-structure jokes) and bottom-right (for poorly-structured jokes)