In 1989, Graeme Joy, with two others, led an international team on an expedition to the North Pole. Joy became the first and only Australian to ski to the North Pole. Needless to say, it was a volatile and risky affair; as an effective leader, Joy relied on his team heavily on this journey. In fact, Joy depended on his team's creativity to overcome many unpredictable challenges during the trip. It was a time when having "idea assassins" on your team could be, shall we say, detrimental.
There are a lot of similarities between Joy’s adventure and the business environment that we operate in today. Both are risky and both require constant innovation to achieve results. It’s not surprising at all that both need to deal with “idea assassins”.
Idea assassins are people who are unwilling to operate outside their comfort zone and often reluctant to trial new ideas when facing a problem. Idea assassins are not necessarily illogical or irrational; on the contrary, they often have a valid and intelligent argument, however, they are naysayers.
No doubt we all have encountered idea assassins, but what should we do with them when we know that today’s business environment demands innovation and constant adaptation? These three tips may just get you started.
Forget about “good” ideas
Stop setting the bar so high and demand only “good” ideas. As soon as you assign quality to an idea at the inception phase, self-doubt and hesitation follows as people have the perception that their ideas are never good enough. So demanding "good" ideas not only kills creativity, it also provides ammunition for naysayers to be negative. So watch the language here. Instead of asking for “good” ideas, we simply ask for ideas and we ask for many. This is a time when quantity and creativity trumps quality and perfection.
No Spanish Inquisition
Many people do not share their ideas for the fear of receiving harsh criticism. In his 2012 book, “Creative Strategy: A Guide for Innovation”, Columbia Business School lecturer William Duggan talked about how having a Spanish Inquisition culture, which aims to quash any “heretics”, can stifle any hope of possible innovation. In fact, “it makes everyone conform to conventional wisdom...” So removing the fear associated with harsh criticism and sending a very clear and positive message to idea assassins about idea generation is paramount to the health of your creative process.
If you are yet to build a supportive culture at your workplace when it comes to innovation, perhaps it’s time to go back to the old school and use the “suggestion box”, which helps with anonymity. Instead of setting up a suggestion box in the corner of the officer that no one will ever visit, why not have a mobile suggestion box and simply pass it around during a brain-storming session? Decorate this suggestion box, make it colourful, outrageous and fun. Create a positive psychological association that “you should be celebrated every time you put an idea into this box”. This exercise fosters idea generation in a safe environment where idea owners remains anonymous. Ultimately, you want to create a culture where people can confidently share their ideas openly.
Avoid the “bad ideas” trap
In the world of innovation, there’s no such thing as a bad idea. An idea that may not work now could easily be picked up by others and flourish in another environment or at a later date. Large companies often fall into the “bad idea” trap with many “buts” – ‘but that’s not what we’re about’; ‘but it’s outside our scope’; ‘but we don’t offer such a service’. This habit of rigid thinking means companies can gradually lose competitive edge in a fast-moving environment. So what do we do? If you can accept that there is no such thing as a bad idea, then before dismissing any idea, ask yourself, “what is the silver lining in this seemly ridiculous or irrelevant idea?” If you can’t find the silver lining, find someone else who can. Unless you’ve found one good thing to say about the idea that you are about to toss out, you do not throw the idea away. This exercise forces you to avoid the conventional and rigid mindset and really critically examine all suggestions that you’ve received in a positive manner.
Innovation does not always come easy; it's a culture that needs to be cultivated. Having the right strategies to manage idea assassins will help you kickstart your creative process.