Killing ideas is not difficult and unfortunately we are highly skilled in doing so. We all – and yes, me too – have been guilty of massacring fresh and new ideas. Granted more often than not we do it unconsciously. The odds are that it already happened today or that it will happen later today. Simple acts are so deadly that many ideas never even stand a chance!
Here are a few examples of typical - yet extremely effective - idea killers:
- we have done this in the past and it did not work
- there is no budget
- we have no time
- it’s not a priority
- be realistic
All of these kill ideas before they even see daylight! Usually, they’re introduced by “yes, BUT…. !” and they’re done with good intentions or in the name of efficiency. But make no mistake: they’re still killers – of the idea they’re targeting, and (even worse) of future ideas that may have been created and delivered. With the guillotine of judgment hanging over their head, people are unlikely to stick their neck out to share new ideas.
Story time - Let me take you through a short story:
Imagine you’re about to go out for dinner with your partner to the fanciest restaurant in town. You have been planning for this evening for a long time and it was incredibly tough to get a reservation.
You wake up that morning with a big smile on your face as you both are looking forward to the evening. The entire day turns out spectacular. The weather is perfect; people are kind and responding positively to your radiant glow. It feels like all the stars are aligned for you that day and you are getting excited to see how the evening can take this to the ultimate climax!
The evening starts perfect. You have selected your best outfit for going to the restaurant and are ready to hit the night. In order to fully enjoy the evening without constraints, you have arranged to be picked up and dropped to the restaurant. The doorbell rings indicating it is time to go downstairs. When you are coming down the stairs, your eyes and mind are suddenly distracted. They lock onto your partner. She (or he) just blows you away by looking at her (his) best ever! You are mesmerized and it feels like you are falling in love all over again. The feeling that this will become a memorable night grows and you can’t prevent the big smile from returning onto your face. The doorbell sounds again. It’s time to go.
The driver takes you to the beautiful venue and upon arrival, it happens to be the general manager of the restaurant who awaits you. He opens the door for you and guides you to the best table in the restaurant. You can hardly believe this is happening and you could not have expected the setting to be any better. The large windows have been opened completely creating the feeling of being outside. A gentle breeze drifts through your hair whilst both of you are stunned by the breathtaking sunset. Two glasses of champagne are being served at the table together with some finger food. You could not be happier. You look into each other’s eyes and you realize that this will be a moment to engrave into your memories.
The champagne bubbles sparkle gently and flow softly over your lips. All your senses seem to be fully active and when you take your first bite of the delicious looking finger food, you are amazed by its subtle yet simple flavors. It is just perfect and the delicious taste enriches your happy feeling. A contented sigh escapes your lips; you never want this to end. Both of you are completely wowed and immersed into the moment. It feels like the world just stopped turning for the both of you and time stands still. You look into each other’s eyes, intoxicated by joy.
The waiter comes and gracefully serves you the first course. The scent of the soup mesmerizes you. You cannot take your eyes of this beautifully presented dish and it’s almost a shame to eat it, but you are seduced by its scent and you just need to taste it. You pick up your spoon and gently stir the soup before taking a scoop. You bring the spoon to your mouth and then you spot something…
You notice something on your spoon that should not be there and you bring the spoon closer to identify what it is. You notice that it is part of a band-aid!! You cannot believe what you are seeing and you just see another piece of band-aid floating in your soup!
I’m sure by now, whilst you are reading and visualizing this, a feeling of disgust is washing you over. Now I have a question for you, would you still eat the soup? Would you still eat the soup if you (or the waiter for that matter) took the band-aid out of the soup?
I believe most people (if not all) would say no.
I’ll take it even further, the situation has most likely completely killed your appetite and ruined the wonderful atmosphere & evening you were experiencing. It squashed all shades of joy and happiness. Even if they served you a different soup, the fabulous emotions and excitement you experienced earlier would not return and you would still feel crushed. Suspicion takes over preventing you from fully enjoying the moment or getting back to this previously perfect set of feelings. In addition, I would bet you that you would not be returning to this place in the future or recommend it to others.
Conclusion – one piece of band-aid can ruin a fabulous moment!
Whilst band-aids are useful, they serve their purpose in specific circumstances. Similarly, efficiency and good intentions are serving their purpose, but one needs to realize that they instantaneously kill ideas and have a detrimental impact in the long term! Coming up with new ideas feels, in some respects, like the perfect evening I’ve been describing – it’s high of creative energy, a wonderful – but very fragile –mental experience. The band-aid of judgment takes away momentum, stops the creative juices from flowing and negatively impacts motivation to take initiative in the future. Don’t be or become that band-aid when you aim to create an environment of idea generation.
How can we prevent this from happening?
1. Actively listen!
Sounds easy, right? In reality it is often our biggest blind spot. Making a real effort to listen to what the other is saying makes a huge difference (and not only in this situation). Avoid listening to your own voice in your head that is trying to already formulate answers, provide solutions and argumentation and which jumps to conclusions before actually having heard the full story and sometimes even provides you with the words to finish the other person’s sentences! Just listen! Personally, I know that it is not always easy to do as your mind gets activated and triggered by what the other person is saying, but here are two things that helped me:
- make a few notes when listening: If your mind is going into hyper drive and comes up with thoughts, it will prevent you from listening actively. I experienced that by writing down a few key words or bullet points capturing the essence of my thoughts, my brain felt reassured that I wasn’t going to forget about them. As a result, it could start refocusing on truly listening and prevent my brain from drifting away into my own thoughts.
- Paraphrase what you’ve heard: This is powerful in 2 ways. Firstly, it demonstrates to the other that you have been listening, sending the right signals to the other and creating a trusting, pleasant atmosphere. Additionally, it allows the other to fill any of the missing info gaps or misinterpretations – this could be as a result of your brain switching into thinking mode during the listening phase.
During this process you should also be aware of your non-verbal communication, as you will be communicating your feelings and thoughts without saying anything! Remember that 55% of our communication is body language (e.g. facial expression), 38% is tone & voice and only 7% are the actual words flowing out of our mouths! (Albert Mehrabian)
You’ll notice that actively listening will give you more and differentiated information and insights.
2. Try to understand!
If you listen actively, you will have probing questions to ensure that you fully capture and understand what the other person is saying or trying to pass. However, ask open questions to ensure you can understand the process of thinking, gather the context etc. It is important to avoid steering questions as these would end up killing the ideas again. Steering questions result from your prejudgments and unconsciously pop-up to validate or substantiate what your brain is thinking, rather than understanding how the brain of the other person is working. It’s important that you get a clear understanding of what the DNA is of an idea as this is the heart/core of the idea that will become implementable or deliver the required results/change.
3. Build & construct!
Avoid the “not-invented here syndrome”! Now that you have a good understanding about the idea context and its DNA, it is time for you to help the idea become stronger. Force your mind to start thinking alongside the other person. Think in terms of solutions so that you can help the other person to make this idea happen. Make suggestions! What is required, who are the key stakeholders & why, what timings are we looking at, who can be great to further build momentum, etc. Change the “yes, BUT…” into the “yes, AND…”!
These 3 steps will help nurture ideas before they are judged. Mostly the starting idea will come out stronger out of this process, ensuring that many great ideas can grow and be implemented rather than killed before they see daylight. Remember that fresh ideas are vulnerable and require care-taking in order to grow and strengthen.
After these steps the idea will be more substantiated and in a much better place to evaluate its potential. Now, I wouldn’t recommend evaluating the idea immediately after the previously outlined 3 steps because biases will kick in and you might be too committed or remain too skeptical about some of the ideas. Give the ideas some time to settle as it will ensure you to become more objective and look at them with a different lens. Eventually not every idea will end up being good or implemented, but by going through this mindset & behavior process, change will happen! People will feel more confident to share their ideas and the environment itself will become richer.
Create the right environment
In reality we won’t always be in the position to immediately act as described above. If I is not the right moment to discuss a new idea (stress, deadlines, etc), flag it to the person and plan for a follow-up session during which you can take time for the process I described above. On the other hand, if you have an idea to share, make sure that you approach the other person similarly – ask if he or she has time to discuss it and if not appropriate now, schedule it in. Make sure you also indicate what you are expecting of the other one in terms of behavior as well. Always create an environment where everybody involved has the right mindset and where you will be able to master your mind rather than the other way around!
In all honesty, I have been guilty of succumbing to the band-aid behavior too; its invisible force kicks in at times when you don’t always know or expect it, but awareness has helped me to pursue ideas, keep my creative juices flowing and to stay motivated. Nevertheless, the road remains paved with many pitfalls, many of them very subtle, but extremely efficient in killing ideas. So be aware & go increase your creative success rate!
I’d love to hear of the other “killing one-liners” you’ve encountered! They’ll be shared here to help us all watch-out for the idea killers.
© Niels Chabot, Nutz & Creative