Ron was full of ideas. Good ones, too—or at least he thought so. He had ideas about how team members should organize their work, how to report status, how to speed up the build, and a way to save money on white board markers, to name a few.
But, Ron's teammates hadn't picked up on his wonderful ideas. In fact, to Ron's eyes, they had rejected them out of hand. So, he persisted, arguing why his ideas were a better way.
Eventually, another developer agreed to try Ron's idea for speeding up the build and asked Ron to work on it with him. Ron refused. "I don't want to get saddled with the extra work," he huffed. "That's like punishing me for having good ideas." The other developer quickly lost interest.
Many ideas wither, not because they are bad ideas, but because of clumsy presentation. Few people are as inept as Ron; but most nascent ideas stand a better chance if you remember these four things:
1. It's not about you.
Most of the time, people pursue a new idea because they can see how it will help them. Don't just tell them why you think your idea is a good one. See the world from their point of view, and frame the idea in terms of what matters to them. If your manager cares only about cost, then talking about quality, speed, reuse, or elegance won't convince him to try your idea. Connect your idea with what's important to the people you are hoping to influence.
2. It is about who you know.
Bringing your ideas to fruition is a social process. You will need the aid and interest of others to make your idea reality.
Take stock of your network. Who can help you move the idea forward? Who has influence with people who might champion the idea? What do the people who hold formal and informal power care about? Can your idea help them advance their goals?
3. Action creates attraction.
Rather than pushing your ideas on people, try pulling them in—work by attraction. If you think a team task board would help everyone do better, show them; don't just tell them. Demonstrate the benefits by creating your own task board and making your progress visible. The time to tell is when someone shows curiosity, not before.
There's another benefit of showing: You might learn something useful about the how the organization will respond to your idea. Suppose you make your own kanban board and start limiting your own work in process. If your manager increases his scrutiny of your work or berates you for not working hard enough, you've obtained valuable information—information that will help you move your idea forward (or choose not to move it forward and look for a new manager, instead).
4. Timing is everything.
Your idea might be good but not viable in this organization at this particular time. An experiment—such as the personal kanban board—can reveal what else needs to change for your idea to succeed.
Sometimes people and groups aren't ready for an idea. They may not have the prerequisite knowledge to appreciate it, or they may be working from a different mental model in which there's no place for your idea to fit. In this case, you need to prepare the ground with conversations (sometimes many) before planting the seed of your idea.
When you are brand new to a group, you may see many opportunities for improvement. But, ideas from an outsider can feel like implied criticism. After all, how could an outsider understand the tribulations the team is facing? Show you understand by offering an idea to solve something the group views as a problem, not something you see as a problem. Once the team sees that you can solve their problems, they'll be more likely to listen to your other ideas.
Sometimes a great idea comes a few seconds too late. When a team has too many ideas, they may feel overwhelmed. Or, as team members chase each shiny, new idea, those ideas may not stick. When the team is close to a decision and a new idea enters the mix, the team goes back into analysis, examining the new idea.
You may have an even better idea, but sometimes it's best to hold that for the next round and get on with implementing "good enough."
Ron continued to generate ideas—ideas that usually involved more work for other people, and no ownership on his part. His teammates continued to ignore his ideas until one day someone told him to just shut up. So, if you want to stay out of the Ron trap, remember these four points—it's not about you, it is about who you know, action creates attraction, and timing is everything. I can't guarantee that all your excellent ideas will come to fruition, but many will. And you'll been seen as someone who knows how to make things happen.