Half-baked ideas

Book of Shadows II {closeup}How many times to you or a colleague have a brilliant insight that will solve the world's problems?  Does that insight go anywhere, or does it sit on the pile of other insights?  Or you try to do something with it but run into roadblocks that make the idea harder harder to implement.  Welcome to the half-baked idea

I thought about this today because of Holly Green's piece in Blogging Innovation, What If You Asked "What If?".

Every time you have a thought bubble that says, “I am right!”, deliberately pause and ask, “What if I’m wrong? What if there’s a different way to see this?” Innovation doesn’t mean you walk around wondering if you’re wrong all the time. The idea is to force yourself (every now and then) to open your mind, suspend your assumptions and judgment, and simply ponder, “What if…?”

While Holly is thinking about innovation, I think this has connections with any kind of idea: improvements, new hires, rearranging the furniture, etc. etc. 

Great ideas are only that.  There is no requirement that you take action on them.  But if you do, along with fitting that new project into all the others, you must take another look at the idea with the "What if" thought in mind: "What negatives could come out of implementing this idea?"  (I'm assuming the idea is there because you / the group believe it will have a positive impact.)  You certainly don't want to find yourself halfway through an implementation, only to discover those unintended consequences.

This is not a suggestion to kill ideas simply because there are negative ramifications.  It is a suggestion to verify that those negatives could really happen, and decide how to prevent those negatives from happening while still getting the benefit from the original idea.  This might be part of a risk management practice, or it could be part of being smart about deciding how to do things. 

The Theory of Constraints community has a specific logic tool, called Negative Branch Reservations (NBR) which is used to help understand how the negatives can come out of the great idea.  There are usually things like, "If we do X, then we'll run out of money before the benefits are realized."  Or "If we do that, then I will lose my job."  They aren't always articulated so clearly, so you have to listen.  But then job of the team is to first check the reality of these statements (will she really lose her job?).  If the negative could happen (the budget might run really thin), then you must develop ways to overcome the problems.  And decide whether the idea is still worth it. 

[Photo: "Book of Shadows II {closeup}" from Deborah Austin]

2 Comment(s)

Christopher M. Janney Author Profile Page said:

I read this blog as well (the link doesn't work just as an aside; I read it prior to seeing it referenced here)and I was really touched by it as well. I have been in workplaces where, when a good idea comes along, supervisors and managers smile and essentially say, "That's nice, now keep doing things the same way."

This is actually one of the underlying themes behind so many issues in so many organizations. A recent blog in HBR (yes, I said it!) by Tony Schwartz talks about how Tony Hayward was utilized by BP as a scapegoat. I think one thing that I have to ask is, were there great ideas that were brought up along the way that were shot down by those in positional authority that could have changed the direction of the organization and averted the current tragedy?

Christopher - I think it was your tweet that led me to the article to begin with. Thanks for that. Reading _Tribal Leadership_ has me see your example through that lens: if it isn't my idea, then it must not be very good. Or we don't bother with new ideas, because they "never work."

And thanks for letting me know about the broken link - the URL has some oddball characters in it. Hopefully, I've fixed it now.

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