Did You Mean to Kill that Idea?

 My partner, Karl, was telling me about how the new guy at work is finally settling in to his surroundings. He used to own a business, so he came into this arrangement asking a lot of questions. He wanted to know if they had ever considered doing things like their office procedures or equipment placement differently. Karl explained to me that everyone else had been working there a long time. What they did worked for them. It took a while but now, the new guy seemed to understand “the way of the world” according to everyone else.

This has been a common story in my 30+ years of business. No one likes the person who constantly talks about how things were done at their old place of employment. Obviously, it wasn’t that great if they were no longer there.

Even groups of consultants find a common path and then get irritated when an outsider or newcomer suggests they consider a different model or method of working.

Yet new people to any team can trigger creativity and innovation. Of course, you say, this is common sense. So why isn’t it common practice?

Humans by nature are tribal. They bond around an idea, a goal, or some other sort of kinship. Then they work hard to protect the behaviors and beliefs that define their tribe. They shield whatever they think they own, including their ways of doing daily business, from outside influence.

This can serve to make a team cohesive. It also serves to make the team blind to their bad practices and deaf to a good idea. Then if a person persists in telling the core tribal members about a better way to do things, that person becomes the village idiot where all his or her ideas are ignored or killed without any consideration.

Tribal behavior also creates

  • the fear of speaking up against the leadership
  • an avoidance of conflict
  • mediocrity as people quit thinking up new ideas or sharing a novel concept
  • fitting in is the highest value
  • less powerful members become rescuers as they attempt to buddy up and get the new person to accept the wisdom of the more experienced leaders

On the flip side, the new person can influence less powerful members to resist the leader’s decisions no matter what or they question the leader’s action enough to slow the process to an inefficient pace, making the leader look incompetent (this is called a Collusion of Rebelssound familiar?).

If there is anything our country, business teams and each person needs right now it is creativity.

We need new ideas! Leaders should be inspiring the development of creative new products, processes and partnerships. Small business owners should be leaping out of the box. Teachers, writers, and speakers should be courageously sharing audacious notions.

So how do you stop the strangling of ideas?

Tell the Truth

Psychologist Erich Fromm said, “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” Get your partner or team to talk about how you will ask for and listen to new ideas. Create agreements to listen, accept and point out when idea-killers show up.

Be Curious

You can boost your creativity by seeking to know more about how other people act and make decisions, especially when you think you already know what is best. When someone makes a suggestion, ask at least two questions with the intention of learning more. Then keep learning if you can. When we listen with interest and “breathe in” what we hear, our brains can make new connections and discoveries. This is what “having an open mind” really means.

Surround Yourself with Open Minds

Be sure you have people around you who want to take risks and encourage you to see things differently. The people around you can either harden or broaden your creative capacity.

Ban Censorship

Don’t let your inner critic stop you from expressing new ideas. A new idea is only new and not yet accepted today. Quit worrying if no one will think your ideas are good. Your brain will try to protect you from rejection by making up lots of excuses to stay quiet. Thank your brain for doing its job, and then take the leap anyway.

You must go into any partnership or team with your eyes wide open. Everyone should feel safe enough and have a language for pointing out the possibility silencing ideas.

A great program that addresses all aspects of team collaboration is The Team Advantage by the Pyramid Resource Group.

When you quit killing ideas and stop others from “ideacide” you create a more open, respectful and enjoyable experience.



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