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When Good Ideas Go Bad :: How CIO's Avoid Idea-Waste

Leaders are thinkers. But good ideas go to waste. For your idea to thrive, you need to avoid four pitfalls and traverse four avenues of idea fruition.

Years ago, when I was in high school, back when the greatest technological advancement was push-button instead of rotary dial phones, I had a girlfriend whose mom was very frugal.

I didn’t grow up in a frugal household. My mom bought what she wanted, kept leftovers for a day or two, and then tossed them if they hadn’t been eaten. Freezing food to keep for later wasn’t a thing for her.

One night, while eating at my girlfriend’s house, I turned to her and said, “The milk tastes funny.” She took my glass, sniffed it, and in a disgusted voice, said, “O mother!” Apparently, mother was a nurse who would take home small milk cartons about to expire from the hospital and freeze them for later use. Mother had served me spoiled milk. I had never tasted spoiled milk before.

Ideas Spoil

Great ideas have a shelf life. They come with a “sell-by date.” 

I’ve had great ideas whose time passed, or worse, whose time came but to someone else’ credit and benefit. I’m not saying I thought of Facebook before Facebook came into existence, but let’s just say I didn’t have the capital to capitalize on a really superb idea way back then.

I have also had great ideas die a sorry and premature death after I implemented them. Either way, through age or execution by firing squad, I have had ideas meet their expiration date.

I’m not alone. Leaders are thinkers. They thrive on ideas. Don’t you?

The issue of ideas going bad is of particular concern to CIOs and technology leaders. Why? Because there is a major difference between solving a problem and selling a proposition. Solving problems is a technologist’s sweet spot. Selling a proposition can be a technologist’s achilles heel.

As I have coached leaders over the years, and as I have reflected on my own idea leadership, I have recognized four main reasons ideas go bad and four main reasons ideas thrive.

Four Reasons Ideas Go Bad

  1. Personal

You are an introvert or an extrovert. As popular as it is to say you either recharge by being alone (introvert) or by being with people (extrovert), the two really have to do with how you process the world around you.

Introverts will process internally, and then bring others into their ideas. Extroverts will process externally, and then form their ideas with others.

Ideas go bad when introverts don’t extrovert. This is the Moses syndrome, the Jewish leader from ancient history who went up a mountain, received commandments, and then came down and said, “Here it is.” Few ideas are stamped with divine sanction. 

Ideas go bad when extroverts don’t introvert. This is the Frogger syndrome (I told you I’ve been around for a while). Once you leap, you are committed; you are in motion without sufficient reflection.

If you are an introvert, you need to bring people into your thinking sooner than you prefer. If you are an extrovert, you need to examine your idea, see if you can at least bond with it in its embryonic form, and then bring people into it.

  1. Relational

Ideas go bad when we fail to pre-sell it. Pre-sale has to do with having a clear idea of the pain you are trying to solve and the benefit you are trying to impart. Pre-sale requires research into the market (even the internal market of your company) and surveying end users. If you don’t know what people are trying to avoid or gain, you are guessing. Guessing is a death-sentence for good ideas. Your idea must answer “So what?”

Ideas also go bad when we fail to get in front of the critiques. You know there will be some; rather than avoid them, we announce them, and then invite even further critique. People get defensive about their ideas; leaders don’t. Ideas will stand or fall on their own merit, and there is no such thing as a perfect idea. Something needs more thought. 

I often present an idea with, “Here are the problems I see inherent in it. What, if anything, am I missing?” And guess what? Your technology peers love a problem. Now they are a part of shaping your idea so that it becomes “our idea.”

  1. Strategic

Ideas go bad when we fail to get authority behind us. Authority can be within the company (as in your upline has bought in) or it can be within the industry (as much as people like to think they “go against the grain” or “disrupt,” it takes a lot of energy to do so; more are quick to affirm an idea because you have authority behind it then they are to reject it.

Getting authority means you have done some pre-work in testing your idea against expertise and presenting it so that it stands as a solution and not only an alternative. Authority transforms a person’s mindset.

Similar to this, ideas go bad when we fail to name drop. “I ran this by X, and here were their thoughts. I want to get your insight into it as well.” Name-dropping may involve someone who has authority, but more likely, it simply communicates to a person that they are being invited into a thought process that already has some life on its own.

  1. Environmental

You read this from me a lot: Environment before living things. Ideas go bad when we fail to stage their development. An idea doesn’t need to be presented in all or nothing fashion. You and your team are used to iterations. Similarly, an idea can have beginning elements which can be processed, tested and implemented together, creating the right environment of collaboration and adjustments that will bring it to full life. 

Four Reasons Ideas Thrive

  1. You have a clear outcome in mind for when the idea lives and prospers.
  2. You have described for others the current obstacles to your idea and the current opportunities that can leverage your idea. Then you invite them to add to the list.
  3. You have considered options that will bring your idea into fruition, and you invite others to contribute options that you have yet to consider.
  4. You focus on one thing first, the part of your idea that if implemented well will cause other considerations and implications to fall more readily into place.

Leaders are thinkers. We must be. But we are also idea architects and thought-stewards. We lead and manage. I have had too many ideas go to waste. It is the sad litter that trails behind my career. But I also have unexplored roads before me, roads opened to me in a light bulb moment, and roads that I must not travel alone.

CIO Mastermind provides executive coaching and specific training on increasing your leadership persuasion and influence. Find us here to learn more!

When Good Ideas Go Bad :: How CIO's Avoid Idea-Waste
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