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Dealing with ideas

In the previous two deliveries I discussed the matter of how employees can increase the chances of getting their ideas implemented in the organisation. In this delivery I want to argue the other side of the situation, meaning how to deal with “not so good” ideas, and how to give feedback in such a manner that the contributor’s enthusiasm is not crushed.

The reality is that not all ideas are winners. Even people who come forward with a winning idea, probably have a couple of “sub-standard” ideas before hitting the jackpot. I have also very rarely seen that an idea, when first being shared, is in such a form that it can be implemented straightaway. It usually takes some tinkering and modification to get it in an implementable form, and even during execution, alterations will be made, because you never think of every single scenario that might pop pup.
Handling ideas in the correct manner
Linus Pauling said: “To have good ideas, you must have many ideas”, which certainly hold some truth in it. There are however innovation thought leaders who differ from this philosophy, for many reasons, but amongst others, that it becomes an administrative nightmare to review, rate and give feedback to large quantities of ideas. In large organisations, it requires proper systems and manpower to handle idea management properly.
I want to remind you that you can avoid the flood of mediocre to bad ideas by making sure that you focus your innovation efforts, have transparent evaluation criteria which and set proper guidelines for the kind of ideas that are welcome. Yes, sometimes you want to have an “anything goes” approach, which fosters creativity, but then you must be prepared to handle the consequences of such an approach.
Having said all that, the situation will still come up where an employee, colleague or even your supervisor “confronts” you with an idea that he/she thinks is the best idea ever and it just has to be implemented. But for some or other reason – not aligned to strategy, too expensive, etc. – it just cannot be implemented. Regular readers will know the emphasize I always put on the innovation culture and the importance of giving proper feedback to anybody who submits an idea. The reason being that ideas is the starting point of innovation, and if you destroy it there, it will be almost impossible to get your innovation efforts off the ground.
Now this is not a psychology column, so I am not going into the psychological aspects of rejection, but I have found the following advice from Jeffrey Baumgartner simple and effective when dealing with ideas. Baumgartner’s method is called the “Three Cs”: 1. Consider, 2. Compliment, 3. Challenge. 1. Consider. Do not immediately analyse the idea and then reject it. Considering an idea involves envisioning the implementation of the idea and how it might work. 2. Compliment. Compliments are wonderful things! I try to use them all the time. Compliments make people feel good about themselves and what they are doing.
Compliments motivate people to continue to be deserving of the compliment. I prefer people to act in the hope of being complimented rather than in fear of being criticised. Having considered the idea, you should complement it. Ideally, the consideration will generate the compliment, e.g. “I’m glad you are looking at ways to make the sales process more efficient”. But, if nothing else, saying: “that’s a good idea.” or “it’s good you are thinking creatively” are useful standbys. 3. Challenge. Having considered an idea and complimented it, the final step is to challenge the idea submitter to improve the idea. In particular, you should look at the issue that wants to trigger criticism. For example, it could be the cost of implementing the idea. Then twist that problem into a creative challenge, e.g. ask: “Can you think of ways we might accomplish the same thing but with a reasonable budget”?


Next Time
The Three-Cs is a simple, yet remarkably powerful method for dealing with ideas. Next time I want to discuss innovation culture again. I conclude with a quote by Frank A Clark: “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth withou
Llopis, G. 2013. The 12 Things That Successfully Convert a Great Idea Into a Reality. Online:

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