By Roger Hitchcock
A story all too commonly told: You have an idea. It’s a really good idea – an idea that you know will change the direction of the company, the destiny of the people who work there, and the lives of your customers and clients. Then you take it to the board.
Your idea remains an idea because your board is the place where ideas go to die!
What a tragedy!
Some thoughts in this regard.
Thoughts for the Board
Boards need to really seriously consider how they deal with ideas. In fact, one critical component of the work of the board is to deal with ideas – their own ideas (obviously) and the ideas of others.
As boards, we need to continually examine how many ideas we have killed or bottled up – and what this is doing to our own thinking and the thinking of those we are leading.
Some crucial questions to ask include:
- Do we have an idea nurturing process?
This process needs to allow the board to open up the idea, unpack it, understand it, and then channel it appropriately – back from whence it came (to be nurtured more), forward into the strategy, sideways into other opportunities, or combined with other ideas. Something must be done with all ideas rather than leaving them alone or neglecting them. Ideas left alone tend to die; they need to be nurtured!
- Do we have an idea implementation process?
Questions that form a subset of this include:
- Do we take ideas to decisions?
- Do we move beyond the decision and spell out accountability and responsibility, amend any authority that is required and ensure adequate disclosure to hold people accountable for the required actions?
- Do we have an idea evaluation process?
Gauge to what extent you do by asking:
- Do we have a way to track the idea from analysis to implementation through to impact?
- Can we properly review each idea to fruition to understand which ones succeeded and which ones failed, where they came from, why they either succeeded or failed, and what can be learnt from idea journeys to better nurture and harvest future ideas?
Thoughts for the Idea Generator
If you take what you know is a good, valuable and needed idea to the board, do everything possible to ensure that it does not die there!
To do this, remember that:
- Ideas and time are often closely linked. An idea, in the right time, comes to fruition. Sometimes patience is the best thing to develop. Ask yourself what the timing of this idea is. A timely idea is more likely to succeed. If the time is right, push harder; if not, back off.
- Ideas are like seeds. Ideas need to be placed in the right environment with the right characteristics and capacity to nurture them. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the environment like here for ideas?
- What is the capacity of the environment for ideas (maybe other ideas that you are unaware of are being nurtured i.e. your idea being rejected now does not mean that it will be rejected forever).
Understanding the environment and how this impacts your idea, will provide insight regarding what to do with your idea.
- Ideas seldom work alone. Ideas often require other ideas to grow, develop and mature. Explore what other ideas yours is dependent on. If these are ‘in play’, your idea will take root much quicker and be more resilient. When ideas combine well with other ideas, the outcome is often far, far better than the original singular idea.
Let Ideas Live
Too many ideas that should not die, do die simply because we do not have a suitable system or process to deal with them. This is further complicated by not thinking through what I call the ‘idea context’ more robustly.
By dealing with ideas better, a board will no longer be the place where ideas go to die.