The brilliance of bad ideas

29th July 2011 at 01:00

Professor John MacBeath is reported as saying "if at first you fail, try again, fail better!" - a phrase located on a teacher's classroom wall in Govan (TESS, 15 July). And in the final episode of The Apprentice, winner Tom Pellereau admitted: "I was on the losing team in eight of the tasks!"

Alan Sugar's young business partner, who has a first-class masters degree in mechanical engineering, attributed his success to being dyslexic and credited it with helping him: "Dyslexia has always been a massive positive for me . I was better at certain things than other people. If I had an idea, I could basically make it in my brain, I could visualise it. I could start, spin it around, I could look at it and work out how it could be made."

As Jack Foster states in his book How to Get Ideas (1996), "goal achievement may be linear but, with ideas, one point should not follow the next. Great sideways leaps matter." Peter Senge, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technnology, says: "Really deep thinking is about continually moving back and forward between thinking and action."

Tom's philosophy was that the big picture was very important and he put into practice the basic elements of co-operative learning: socially, he reached consensus of opinion by using the "rock, paper, scissors" technique and he recognised the importance of "turn-taking", by putting his hand up and waiting to be heard, which enabled him to make an individual contribution towards the academic task. He was, as the show's host, Dara O'Briain, stated, "tremendously well mannered". He portrayed all the characteristics of "a responsible citizen, an effective contributor, a successful learner and a confident individual".

How could practitioners emulate Tom's success? Well, his identity and the principles and values that underpin it are critical, but in the final task, he relayed the three elements of practice to his experience. He was:

reflective: why am I doing this? ("I want the buyer to notice my concept");

descriptive: what did I do? ("I said the box had to be handed over personally");

evaluative: how well did I perform under the circumstances? ("I won major contracts").

Tom also cited Thomas Edison as his inspiration - the same Edison who prompted Foster to write: "As with Thomas Edison and his experiments with lightbulbsrubber, bad ideas are no more than part of the elimination process for the creation of good ideas."

Donna English, seconded principal teacher, inclusion support team, Clackmannanshire.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today