The death of a good idea is a tragedy. Many individuals bring forward great ideas only to see them assaulted by three different assassins.
I have watched the assaults and done nothing. Yet, I wondered why my team was stagnating and not moving forward. I was asleep at the wheel.
These assassins were individuals, groups and/or processes. All three were the result of an inattentive leader-me. But once I learned how to identify these assassins, I was able to save some great ideas from the clutches of death.
The assaults that occur on good ideas are not always intentional. They are often part of an ingrained pattern of behavior for an individual or a team. Therefore instead of murder, I guess it is more accurate to call it idea-slaughter.
Whatever we call these killers, they hurt a team and limit growth. It is the leader’s responsibility to police the individuals and the group in order to insure the best ideas survive.
Killer #1: The Judge
The judge often looks at the person who presents the idea and has a preconceived judgment about the validity of the idea. The judge sees the person as key to determining the value of the idea.
Some judges kill an idea based on the department the person originates from. Sales people may scoff at a messaging idea that comes from a member of the finance team.
Some judges kill an idea based on the experience level of the person with the idea. The veteran may believe a new college graduate hasn’t earned the right to share ideas yet.
Some judges kill an idea because it wasn’t presented in a clear manner. The judge may believe the delivery is equally as important as the content.
The Best Defense:
The best defense against the judge is an attitude of respect. The leader must insure that each individual, no matter the department, the experience, or the delivery is treated with respect by all team members.
One of the best ways to show people respect is to listen to them and even ask for their opinions.
Killer #2: The Sniper
The sniper will pick off an individual idea before it even gets a chance to defend itself. The sniper hears a new idea and quickly finds reasons why the idea will not work.
Most snipers are a team’s most experienced members. The sniper’s experience causes her to immediately filter an idea through her own past experiences and find the flaws in the idea.
Some snipers are critical due to their personalities. Detail oriented people will often immediately discount an idea if it has not been fully thought through.
Another sniper might see a new idea as a threat to his status quo. He is comfortable with his way of doing things and will kill any idea outside of his comfort zone.
The Best Defense:
Again this can be an issue of respect. The lack of respect the experienced sniper has for the ideas of others can kill all creativity on a team. The same will happen when a detail oriented sniper begins to poke holes in an idea.
The leader must keep these snipers from pointing out the flaws in a plan before it is fully explored. The longer the leader can keep the sniper from firing, the more likely the idea will become strong enough to live past the criticism.
The leader must deal with these snipers head on or else new ideas will run for cover when they should be exposed.
Killer #3: The Strangler
This killer can be an individual, a group or a process. The strangler usually strikes after a good idea has made it past the other killers. The strangler hits a good idea while it is being implemented.
Great ideas are strangled to death by good ideas. Leaders will often allow great ideas to be smothered by adding more and more good ones to his team’s priority list.
The great idea that was to be a new priority dies a slow death as each good idea slowly suffocates it. The other ideas are not bad ideas, but the team cannot do them all well, so something has die.
The Best Defense:
The leader must qualify every new idea versus current strategies. The Covey Group did a study that showed an inverse relationship between the number of goals a team has and the number of goals that are actually accomplished.
Goals Achieved with Excellence
The leader must keep the number of goals a team has to a critical few so each idea has a chance to live and not be strangled by multiple other goals.
The question a leader must ask about each new goal is:
“Is this better than the other goals we have?”
If it is, then an old goal must be eliminated. If it is not, then the old goals stay in place and the team maintains its current focus.
I expanded on this in a previous blog: Focus Requires Elimination
The Bottom Line:
The leader is responsible for everything that happens on his team. When I did not protect new ideas from these assassins, I was dooming my team to mediocrity that comes from the status quo.
Many of these issues are character issues. The leader must deal with character issues of the people on his team. The leader must develop his individuals so they see how they are killing the creativity of the team.
The leader must also develop the character of the team as a whole so it becomes a team that looks for reasons a new idea will work instead of always identifying the reasons it won’t.
The leader must protect the new ideas that come forth. They will not always be good ideas. But, many ideas are killed well before they have a chance to thrive. The leader is the one responsible for making sure that does not happen.
What are some other things that kill good ideas?