I read this bit on McDonald’s Theory recently:
An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge. Magic!
It’s as if we’ve broken the ice with the worst possible idea, and now that the discussion has started, people suddenly get very creative. I call it the McDonald’s Theory: people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones.
Two thoughts came to mind.
First, this is a variation on the restaurant choice aspect of the dinner diffusion problem, wherein people don’t want to be the one caught making a decision about where to go to dinner at a conference.
The other thing is that, when the author ties this in to the broader decision-making process, it’s partly the blank page syndrome — tasks are more daunting when an empty page is staring at you, and it’s better to just get started, somewhere — anywhere — even if you have to completely revise the work, because you’ve gotten the ball rolling.
But the hesitancy to float ideas in front of colleagues is somewhat foreign to me, and I wonder if that’s simply due to my little corner of science, or if that’s broader. Scientists are used to people trying to shoot down their ideas because that’s how peer review works, so there is a distance between the person and the idea, or there is supposed to be. It’s a bad dynamic to have someone who won’t accept criticism of their ideas and/or gets personally invested in them. Pursuing wrong ideas is a waste of time and resources, so you’d prefer to know the problems with an idea as early on as you can. So not taking the criticism personally makes it easier to bring ideas up. If someone finds a flaw, you fix it and move forward, or if it’s fatal, you discard the idea and move on to something else. (Of course, it’s possible I’ve just lucked into the right situations all these years)