No Joke: The Cost of a Truly Bad Idea

Anyone who has ever attended a brainstorming session has heard the well-intended bromide “There are no bad ideas.”

This of course, is a blatant lie: there are countless bad ideas.  Bad ideas pop up with astonishing frequency, leaving hideous blemishes upon the culture like this, and this, and this.  In fact, there’s even an SNL short on the subject.  A good brainstorming session is not devoid of bad ideas, but rather a safe place to have them, a place where a bad idea won’t hurt you or someone else because they will remain mere concepts, not mutate into any dangerous reality.

Leave Promotions to the Professionals, Boys
Leave Promotions to the Professionals, Boys

Unfortunately for the discount online traders at Zecco, a company that built a solid niche reputation for free online trades, that wasn’t the case with this craptacularly awful idea. Apparently, someone in promotions thought it would be a funny April Fool’s Day joke to add millions of dollars to their customers’ accounts without telling them.  And at first blush, that could be kind of funny.  Unfortunately, at second blush, the dangers of a financial company toying with other peoples’ money–particularly in today’s antsy economic climate–loom pretty obvious, particularly when coupled with many peoples’ natural reluctance to trust online commerce.  And yet, they went ahead with this bad idea.  More amazingly, no one bothered limiting the trading potential of those false dollars and suddenly Zecco, which is also known for having a very fast order execution platform, began taking buy and sell orders with money that didn’t actually exist.  The internet lit up almost immediately in a furor over this incredibly boneheaded move, including my favorite comment from someone identifying themselves as ProximaC: “A major financial company behaving unprofessionally with millions of dollars?  Oh yeah… I am sooooo shocked…”

Everyone in the creative business needs the fundamental freedom to have bad ideas. One could even argue that bad ideas act as the healthy, nourishing mulch and manure for truly great ideas.  But when an awful idea actually escapes the bounds of the theoretical, dodging the safeguards and the protocols designed to eliminate or radically-reshape them on the road to realization, the result is a stark lesson in the the true power of what many mistakenly undervalue as a mere “concept.”  Ideas are powerful, powerful things; just ask the people at Zecco, though I doubt they’ll be picking up the phone for a while.  Ouch.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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