This past week I was in a couple of different strategic planning meetings. Some sessions were noticeably more effective than others in encouraging creative ideas. I started to wonder why that is and came up with the top ways to kill new ideas. If you see these tenets taking hold in your organization, then you need to change things up to get people thinking more radically.
- Every idea must be perfect
The enemy of good is perfect. If you aim for perfection you'll probably never get out of the starting gate. By making something good (or even "good enough"), you can get it to market and improve it. As Philippe Kahn used to say at Borland in the 1980's "Shipping is a feature." In other words, until you get to market, you haven't done anything. Good ideas that get implemented can be improved. Great ideas that never get out don't amount to anything. No idea is ever perfect, but taking risk is better than doing nothing. If you're not making some mistakes, you're probably not taking enough risk. Better to create a culture that encourages risk taking and rewards new ideas than to become so afraid that you never try anything.
- Manage by concensus
If you've got radical ideas it's pretty much guaranteed that you won't get concensus. Heck, if it doesn't get someone's dander up, it probably isn't radical enough. If you try to get everyone to agree, you'll probably compromise so much that the value of the idea is lost. Forget concensus. Be brave and be prepared that there will be detractors. There will be people who object to new ideas for lots of reasons. Maybe it threatens their power structure, or they are jealous that they didn't think of it. People can get very complacent with the status quo and change makes people nervous. But don't try to manage towards concensus or you'll find inertia holds you back.
- We've done it before and it didn't work
While it's good to learn from the past, it's easy to become a prisoner of it. Whenever someone complains that something has been tried before, try to think if there's something different today. Maybe there can be a variation of an old idea, or perhaps a different execution plan. Or perhaps the market has changed. But instead of criticizing an idea as being old, figure out a way to strengthen the idea.
- No one has been successful doing it before
This is the opposite of item 3 above. If no one has done it, it doesn't mean that it won't work. Maybe no one has been bold enough. Or maybe no one thought of it yet. If you want to get out on the bleeding edge, then you need to try things out before it's common knowledge. How many people do you think told the founders of SugarCRM that no one has been successful with open source applications? The truly successful companies, like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Intel have all broken new ground many times. It's when they stop breaking new ground that you need to be concerned.
- We do that already
This is a great way to put people down and maintain the status quo. Just maintain that we're already doing something like the suggestion. If you find yourself putting down ideas as already being done see what you can do to add to the idea and make it better.
- The problem with that is...
Some people like to play devil's advocate's so often that they should have horns and a pitchfork. They think that shooting down an idea is as good as coming up with one. But it's not. The role of devil's advocate can be valuable on occasion, when you are trying to evaluate competing good ideas, but it's a sure sign of a problem if too many people think their role is to be the gatekeeper to sainthood. But don't mistake ruling out bad ideas as being as valuable as implementing new ideas. There isn't a single great idea or great business that does not have problems. But if you see your role as being the person who needs to point out problems, you will find that fewer and fewer people are willing to listen. Life is too short to spend hanging out with the naysayers.
- No one will like it
Naysayers often seem to have perfect knowledge of what people like or don't like. And they often use phrases like "everyone knows that..." or "no one will like it." But I wonder, how can anyone know what everyone thinks? Why not test it out? Maybe it's true that many people will dislike something. But perhaps some will absolutely love it and you can make those people happy.
- It will kill the company
A great way to prevent the free-flow of ideas necessary for brainstorming is to polarize discussions. I've often seen managers claim that their team will quit if a certain idea is pursued. Talk about a conversation killer! When you raise the stakes this high, naturally people become afraid of making any suggestions and you're left with the status quo.
Since I only came up with 8 ideas for what should be a "Top 10" posting, perhaps others can add their own thoughts and ideas here. I will create another posting later in the week on ways to brainstorm successfully.