You know the feeling of a good idea: your adrenaline rises and your heart starts to race. You realize you know the answer to the hard question people in your organization have been asking—and you can almost picture the full solution.
But then what? What do you do with your best ideas?
- Do you immediately gather your staff to work on it without providing a clear vision?
- Do you go straight to the executive team for funding?
- Do you sell it to your clients and pray that your team can make it happen?
- Or do you just bury your idea because you know the organization isn’t ready for it?
In our work with clients (of all sizes), we’ve seen these four patterns emerge, and each has a destructive downside. The hard part to reconcile is that every idea sounds good and they all come with the best intentions.
But the patterns we’ve seen rarely allow a good idea to turn into a great product. Keep reading to learn why your best ideas keep falling flat.
Response #1: I tell my staff to work on it.
I gather my top people, get plenty of caffeine, and book the conference room with the biggest whiteboards to share ambiguous and vague scribbles of my brilliance.
The positive element of this strategy is that you are most likely talking to the right people. Unfortunately, many times this conversation has less clarity and collaboration than you think it does—and far less than it should.
This is where things go wrong.
You leave the meeting with energy (caffeine and brilliance are a powerful combination). Your team leaves the meeting knowing that you think you’ve done something significant, but not much else. Incoherent scribbles on a whiteboard does not a vision make.
You were so excited that you didn’t hear your team say your assumptions weren’t technically feasible. You didn’t notice that you contradicted yourself in your whiteboard scribbles. You left them pieces that make some sense, but none of them fit together yet. You left them with more questions than answers.
Not to mention, you just blew up the current roadmap, ignored legacy code, and assumed timelines that make the staff laugh in order to avoid throwing things. [Yeah, sorry…that laughing wasn’t out of excitement or delight.]
Response #2: I tell the executive staff about it.
I wander the halls on the executive floor hoping to bump into just the right person to get my road show started. Then I fire up the PowerPoint machine, and produce convincing looking timelines, budgets, benefits, and diagrams. The high-fives are sure to flow.
The positive element of this strategy is that you might get your idea funded, scheduled, or at the very least, change the conversation in the hallways. Once you have a seed planted in the executive group, it has a way of getting distributed throughout the organization.
Many times, the parts of your vision that are the least solid are the schedule, cost, and people needed. But when you show your amazing presentation full of brand new ideas it is the slides at the back with dates and numbers that are never forgotten. Those become promises.
This isn’t the only problem with going to executives first. The very thing you are hoping for—that the executives love your idea—can be a real problem. Suddenly, all the parts of your vision that aren’t hashed out, don’t match, and aren’t technically feasible, are going public.
Your staff is about to bare the problems of executive expectations that were never realistic in the first place. Another good way to kill morale.
Response #3: I sell it to clients.
I jump on an airplane to visit my best clients or prospects and show them how great our product could be (and I’m sure will be, after the next version). I show them a prototype that makes the idea seem real and right around the corner.
The positive element of this strategy is that getting customer feedback about your concepts early is a great idea. We’re all trying to eliminate those horrible situations where we develop a product that is a complete market miss. Agile and Lean both advocate visiting clients early and often.
Unfortunately, controlled data gathering isn’t what’s happening. Instead, you’ve come back from a customer dog-and-pony show with a laundry list of “customer needs,” that just so happens to line up exactly with the great idea that inspired your trip.
It’s not your fault. Confirmation bias—only listening to information that confirms our preconceptions—is a real thing. But now you’ve turned a methodologically sound practice that’s done in order to avoid biases, into the ammo you need to prove your idea is brilliant.
[Which as an aside, who are we shooting with all this ammo? Is that really the culture you want?]
Response #4: I save it for later.
I know the organization isn’t ready for this change, I know the technology isn’t there, and I know that we have to hit this next deadline or we will all surely die, so I’ll just keep it quiet. Eventually, I won’t even remember—just like the last good idea I had.
The positive element of this strategy is that you understand the reality. When management changes the target faster than teams can aim and shoot, it really (no, REALLY) isn’t helpful.
Sure, it’s better to pivot when the data suggests the market isn’t going to like your current plan, but at some point, you’ve got to stop pivoting in place and start moving in a direction.
That said, a buried idea is no idea at all. If you’re convinced that upper management is making poor product direction decisions, you can’t continue to offer affirmative nods during a meeting only to walk out with negative eye rolls (and worse) after. If you’re keeping your good ideas to yourself along the way, you shouldn’t be surprised that the final product doesn’t live up to your expectations.
Is there a better way?
We don’t pretend to have the silver bullet that fixes all corporate communication problems and simultaneously provides a surefire way to always release the right product at the right time, but we do have some humble suggestions about how to shepherd your idea through those first important steps of collaboration, awareness, and customer validation.