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Why 'blue sky thinking' is always a bad idea

PUBLISHED: 10:16 04 May 2010 | UPDATED: 10:12 02 July 2010

Stacia Briggs

I've always detested 'blue sky thinking' along with its hellish siblings '360 degree thinking', 'thinking outside the box' and 'giving it 110 per cent'.

If you give people the option of discussing an idea without a single parameter in the hope that one of their madcap suggestions might be workable, you're on the rocky road to thinking it's acceptable to start saying things like 'we want to be first off the taxi rank' or 'let's not focus on the dust at the bottom of the crisp packet'.

Blue sky thinking inevitably involves sitting around listening to a group of people having some form of work-sanctioned LSD trip where rhyme and reason fly out of the window in hot pursuit of the dish and the spoon.

Everything regurgitated up in the guise of an 'off-the-wall' idea is duly noted on a whiteboard by the ringmaster of the claptrap circus until the board resembles a surrealist's shopping list.

Then, inevitably, everyone will decide to do what has always been done before but with a new logo and a Twitter account.

Being creative is one thing, wasting time talking utter nonsense is quite another.

Unless, of course, you work in the British Foreign Office, in which case I think there should be as much thinking outside the box as possible, especially if the subject matter is 'the Pope's forthcoming visit'.

Staff were asked to propose ideas for the 'ideal' visit from Benedict XVI, who will be coming to the UK in September (or will he? What with Richard Dawkins threatening to arrest him, the child abuse protests and now the Foreign Office's think tank, I should imagine he's praying extra hard for the Icelandic volcano to shower the passage to Britain in volcanic ash yet again).

No idea, the team was told, was too 'off the wall'. Staff took the brief at its word, and approached the Pope as if they were an advertising agency planning an underground internet viral campaign for Pepsi Max.

Suggestions included the Pope launching a new range of 'Benedict-themed condoms', backing a Miss Developing World beauty contest, singing a duet with the Queen to raise money for charity, blessing a gay marriage and apologising publicly for the Spanish Armada.

Others thought Benedict XVI should reverse his ban on female priests, open an abortion clinic and arrange to hook up with Susan Boyle (not all at the same time, although I am sure the Foreign Office would have been up for taking 'a helicopter view' about combining a few stunts simultaneously).

Possibly my favourite suggestions of all were those suggesting the Pope spend a night in a council flat in Bradford and performing forward rolls with children to promote healthy living - everyone could benefit from giving these ideas a go, unless they're a young gymnast living in a council flat in Bradford.

As is the time-honoured form, every idea was noted down and converted into a document, which was then sent to line managers, line managers' managers, managers' managers' managers and so forth.

Eventually, poetically, the document reached the Catholic Church, who failed to embrace blue sky thinking on the basis that doing so would consign them to Satan's fiery lake as the playthings of the Dark Lord's cloven-hooved minions.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said: “Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naïve and disrespectful.

“The text was not cleared or shown to Ministers or senior officials before circulation. As soon as senior officials became aware of the document, it was withdrawn from circulation.”

Ah, the withdrawal technique. At least the Catholics should have appreciated that.

Several unnamed, uncivil servants had since had their backsides tanned and one has been “transferred to other duties” - in the Diplomatic Service, perhaps.

* I'd like to make it clear that if a Foreign Office furore had arisen about a Muslim church leader, I would also written a column about it. Well, probably.

It's comforting to hear that Russell Grant, who practices the extremely credible art of astrology, has vowed to end the paranormal activity at Katie Price's house.

He is planning to light a few candles before 'purifying' a possessed room with a secret blend of snake oil and Leprechaun nail clippings - it all sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

In an episode of Price's reality show, What Katie Did Next, she was frightened after her sunbed alarm switched itself on in the middle of the night (hear the creaking? That's Edgar Allen Poe swivelling in his grave).

“She is now said to be convinced that a male presence hangs around the tanning machine,” said a source.

Katie, that male presence is Alex Reid. You know, the one you married. The orange one you keep in the cellar.

When Iceland's economy died, its final wish was that its ashes would be spread across Europe, teaching us all a valuable lesson about not messing with Vikings.

As the volcano in Iceland (the one with the name that looks like someone's eaten a keyboard and then vomited up the consonants) spread its ash across Europe, suddenly my inability to afford foreign holidays seemed a bonus rather than a bane.

I find abroad difficult at the best of times, what with all that foreignness, but while I can take the odd week here or there in a hotel, I cannot take playing sardines with other sweaty Brits on a concrete floor and arguing the toss about who deserves the next flight home most.

As is the general course of my luck, the only people I knew who were trapped abroad were people I really like and wanted back in Britain.

There are lots of people I'd love to see trapped in a different time zone indefinitely, but none of them were grounded by volcanic ash and forced to sleep rough on airport floors.

Further proof, if I ever needed it, that there is no justice in the world.

Talking of holidays, I am off for one of my own this week which will see me returning to my university city, Liverpool, to see how things have changed since I left in the mid 1990s. It will be a huge improvement if my car isn't stolen by joyriders and a dead body isn't thrown in the road outside the place I'm staying: ah, happy memories.

I'm planning to be back after four days. But if volcano Effingkilljoy blows again, I may be stranded for weeks, unable to pilot my private jet in the clouds of powdered glass and forced to doss in unsavoury locations with curious bedfellows.

Now that would remind me of my university days, minus the private jet and powdered glass.

I'll be back on May 17, by which time we may have a new Prime Minister. My cunning side-stepping of the General Election and the subsequent 'satirical analysis' I'd have felt duty-bound to produce is purely coincidental. Honest, Guv. Ahem.

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