Why So Many Great Ideas Get Lost

By Stephanie Reynolds

Jason has many breakthrough ideas for streamlining processes within his company, but often doesn’t share them. He prefers to think things through thoroughly before he speaks. When challenged, he needs time to prepare his responses. It’s not because he isn’t bright. Quite the contrary, he is actually brilliant, and may be the most talented person for process implementation in his entire multi-national organization.

idea puzzleHe grew up in a family that was highly critical whenever the kids said the wrong thing, or even sometimes the right things. In that environment he learned the hard way not to talk back to authority, or worse, prove them wrong. This lesson was reinforced  in prior companies where he has worked. The senior leadership team, that includes his boss at his current company, is composed of highly verbal, jousting types who love to debate and take turns humbling or even humiliating lower level managers presenting to them. They like to compete to see who can find the most flaws or mistakes.

Sound familiar?

How many great ideas have you or others had, that have never seen the light of day in your organization? There is so much emphasis on innovation and creativity today, and yet over 50% of the innovation potential may be right in your own backyard. This information is based on the research of William Miller, author, inventor of the Innovation Styles Assessment® and Co-Founder of Values Centered Innovation.

Our business cultures have evolved into highly verbal, think fast, speak fast, environments that often leave half of companies’ employees out of the conversation. Contrary to popular belief, faster is not always smarter. How many times have companies barreled forward on bad ideas? Too many.

Making the rush to conclusion worse, is the common occurrence of awarding the glory to the one who thinks up an idea first, regardless of whether or not it is the best idea.

In fact, the greatest leaders learn to leverage the brilliance of others, ultimately getting the best results and promotions along the way. We need to get over ourselves a bit, and let the light shine on others too.

Here are some suggestions for surfacing the best ideas within your own organization:

  1. Help Them Think Ahead. Send problem statements out to your team, and yes, other teams within your company, asking for their ideas. It’s ok to be transparent around problems that need solving outside your group. Actually, it models great cross-group collaboration.
  1. Give Them Time To Prepare. Give people enough time to think through and possibly write out their responses before having to present.
  1. Invest Your Time. Invest the time to actually read and think about their responses before asking them to present to you or others.
  1. Gauge the Landscape for Sharing. Carefully choose the environment for sharing ideas. Maybe a one-on-one for some is much more effective. For others you might create an idea forum on a quarterly basis, and conduct it as a think tank approach, highlighting some of the ideas that were written about, and encouraging open minded discussion around possibilities. Include more than just the usual suspects.
  1. Encourage Best Practices At Higher Levels. Start a conversation with your fellow leaders about how you all may be squelching great ideas that could improve your bottom line significantly. See if you can make agreements around how to treat presenters, without interrupting and fault finding. Make agreements about enforcement of those agreements when you backslide.

Mine your environment for the most productive idea generating, and you will solve complex problems, create breakthrough ideas, while engaging employees in very gratifying and self-perpetuating ways.

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