A colleague of mine is fond of saying “all great ideas should lead to work for someone”; the idea being that great ideas must drive action – and that the driving needs to be someone’s responsibility.
I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, however it really ought to be taken a step further. To me, it’s about declaring that “the best ideas must bring the greatest results.”
But do they?
Consider your own experience. How good a job have you and others done at first identifying the great ideas available to you, selecting the best from among them, then planning and executing, and finally obtaining the results you were after – which, after all, is pretty much the whole point of the exercise?
Having worked with a few hundred businesses over the past 30 years, I’ve developed the following view of the relationship between the potential value of ideas versus the actual value realized somewhere down the road.
There are three critical points at which the shape of the curve can be influenced by what we do and how we do it – all in the interest of achieving, in the end, a better result. I’ll address each of these in turn, beginning with this initial posting on the subject of Ideas.
The people in your business are full of ideas. Some of those have the potential to produce significant results – whether strategic (like gaining a clear competitive edge) or operational (perhaps reducing cost or improving efficiency). The challenge here is two-fold: how to gain access to those ideas and then, having acquired them, how to select the very best from among the perhaps rather long list of possibilities.
How often do you, with clear interest and intent, ask the people around you for their ideas? When a competitor launches a new product, do you seek out critical analysis or thoughts on how to counter with an offering of your own? When was the last time you grabbed a sandwich with a couple of your staff and asked them how they felt things are going in the business and whether they had any fresh ideas on how to go forward?
These questions, asked often enough and of a broad sample of your employees, will start to create an expectation and a willingness – even desire – to be engaged. To be successful, I suggest a few simple rules:
– start small; if you aren’t in the habit of asking today, people may be a bit intimidated at first – give them a chance to warm up to the idea (it also might help to bring together a small group of three or four rather than going one-on-one)
– don’t expect too much at first; consider spending time with a few people to get their initial thoughts and then ask them to think more about your questions and re-convene a few days later
– take notes and explore (without being overtly critical) what you are hearing; it’s important that you understand what is being said and you want the others to see that it genuinely matters to you
– don’t be defensive; if someone says something that goes against the grain, accept the comment or idea for what it is – you might discover later that it reflects exactly the of thinking you need
Finally, ask questions or seek ideas and insights that are clearly future-focused. You want access to thoughts that can guide your business forward, not be mired fussing about the past.
To paraphrase what military strategists like to say, “plan for the next war, not the last one”.