Apr 20, 2016
How To Get Good Ideas
We find it frustrating when we have good ideas or suggestions but all we receive is rejection or even worse criticism of our ideas. Part of it can be the culture of the organization. I was listening to some friend’s war stories about working at a major global cosmetics brand, where the culture was purposely made combative. I laughed when I was told the Meeting Room was called the “Confrontation Room”. Actually it was a nervous laugh, because that is probably the last place I would want to work. Now I have been studying traditional Japanese Karate for the last 46 years, had a 20 year career as a competitor and so the “combative” part isn’t intimidating for me. What horrifies me is the damage that type of culture and thinking does to the potential of the organization.
I was assured that despite the toxic nature of that organization, it was still very successful and the Darwinian approach produced winners. This strikes me as a very ancient way of thinking and completely out of touch with the modern world. The presentation sessions for new projects and ideas in the Confrontation Room were brutal. Shredding people’s ideas publically was thought to be necessary to produce the most robust solutions. Maybe you or your own organization has a similar approach?
It might toughen up the survivors, but there would have been a lot of valuable ideas kept to themselves, so as not to invoke scorn. This is the issue – how do we get ideas out that can stimulate everyone’s thinking. When we savage someone’s contribution we cancel their idea creation ticket right there. My crazy, unworkable, ridiculous, stupid idea might be tweaked by you into something really valuable. Without my nutty offering though, you would not have seen the better possibility. This is the problem with ripping into people for not putting up perfect ideas from the start – they stop starting and remain silent instead.
Confusing the stages of the innovation process is harmful to individuals and organisations. There should be two distinct stages involved in creative idea creation. Green Light thinking is a metaphor for the traffic lights showing green, meaning to proceed. Red Light thinking means to stop. Generating ideas is what we do in the Green Light stage and evaluation is taken care of in the Red Light thinking stage. The important point is to not mix the stages together.
Critiquing ideas as they are being formed dampens the amount of involvement and contribution from everyone. Some people are fast and others are slow in how they process ideas. The more considered idea generators see the other contributor’s ideas being flayed alive and they deduce they should just park their idea. They wisely keep it to themselves because they don’t want to go through that indignity. They often have the most valuable ideas because they are deep thinkers, but their ideas never emerge.
We need as large a volume of ideas as possible in the Green Light stage. Time is always limited, but the object is to get the ideas out first, with no commentary. Allow people the full freedom to put their ideas forward. Once the ideas have been generated, we should share the content. This is where the magic of cross- pollination occurs and we see one idea trigger something unrelated. We go again and generate further ideas. We need to guarantee the freedom though, to provide that spark, unworkable as it may be in and of itself. It has a different role – it is a catalyst for more creative boundaries to be stretched.
The Confrontation Room probably buried a lot of potential breakthrough ideas in a silent grave. The bosses were happy that the imperfect ideas were vanquished early. The issue there is who defines what is perfect? If it only the boss’s opinion, then we don’t need to waste other people’s time – the boss can generate a host of perfect ideas alone.
Let’s forget mixing Green Light and Red Light thinking and give our team the advantage of creativity that is fully supported and nurtured. Let’s create a dominant culture which is inclusive and welcoming of everyone’s contribution. If we can do this, we will win the innovation contest of who proceeds and who disappears in business.