"Ideas are the lifeblood of our business…" We have all heard the speech and no matter how eloquently it is delivered and the undeniable truth of the assertion it hides a familiar trap.
Presenting new ideas to the establishment can often be a fruitless endeavour. Far from tokens of gratitude, we are more likely to encounter disinterest or worse still, hostility. Why should this be and what can we do about it?
Leaders are publicly positive about new ideas and privately wary of the changes new ideas can bring. The reason for that reluctance is simple insecurity – our leaders are human, after all. Once we have risen to the top of the hill we are especially sensitive to any changes that might alter the surrounding landscape and leave us once more in the valley.
I was recently in a private and informal discussion with a powerful figure in US business circles. She asserted that while she recognised the importance of new ideas she felt that creative and idea driven people were disruptive and potentially dangerous to her business! Not that that is a view she would espouse in public I suspect – it is political suicide to display such negativity in public.
Is it any wonder we have become sceptical of the 'new ideas speech?' People in power tend to treat those who espouse new ideas with suspicion - as potential trouble makers who must be put in their place.
Ideas people are best ignored for as long as possible. Persistent offenders must be silenced and/or their messages nullified. This is easily done with rumours about their integrity, motives or intelligence. Yep, idea people are idiots… Ideaots if you like.
This is not a new phenomenon of course; the establishment has always been anti-change, anti-new ideas, and even when their very existence is based upon radical thinking they quickly revert to type.
Consider the various factions of the Christian Church today. Their raison d'être is to spread the teachings of a radical free thinker who was shunned and shamed by both sides of the establishment as a trouble maker despite the overwhelmingly positive social consequences of his message. Today Church leaders appear as intractable to change and new ideas as those that tried to bury Jesus and his message.
We don't have to look back so far or to issues of divinity to see the same thing happening more recently. Ghandi, Martin Luther King and even John Lennon, all apparently revered today for their ideas and social conscience, were considered crackpots and dissidents in their own life-times.
Yet, now we talk of these people with hushed, respectful tones. Clearly there is merit in being an Ideaot!
At this point you might be considering the dubious benefits of being an Ideaot – don't worry; I'm not really suggesting your death is required for a successful adoption of a new idea. But make it your business to understand the psychology of your leaders, what makes them tick.
Don't feel crushed if your ideas are rejected or ignored by those in power – it more likely to be an instinctive reaction to the potential effects of change on their own positions than a considered evaluation of your ideas or you as an individual.
If you truly believe in your new idea then become a student of history and develop a strategy that will complement your idea and compliment the establishment. Let me proffer a simple example.
I have mentioned before my experiences with transatlantic teams and the inevitable politics that can decimate these projects at any level. Yet I have also had great success in getting multi-national project teams working harmoniously and projects succeeding splendidly just by understanding how to be an effective Ideaot.
Our American cousins have many qualities, but admitting that good ideas exist outside their management team is not often one of them. I have walked into many a project where the tension caused by this short-sightedness has been a match strike short of explosion and although conflict over ideas and philosophies is usually cited as the cause it more often about questions of authority and power. Do you see a pattern?
As an Ideaot we must recognise that the idea is more important than the individual who created it. Don't let your idea be dragged down by the baggage that you will bring to it. For an idea to fly others must be able to invest in it their own sense of self.
Once you understand this, it only takes a little political finesse and social adeptness to float an idea above a roomful of heads allowing each person to feel that it was their hand that pulled it down to Earth. A sense of personal creation encourages the nurturing of a new idea because it feels like your baby –and who doesn't love their own child?
Ok, now I can hear you thinking that you are not quite ready for such an act of self-sacrifice –it was your idea why shouldn't get the sole credit? But there is little point in getting sole credit for a failure. Trust me, if the idea flies you will get credit, maybe not overtly but the people who matter will know and better still will appreciate the subtlety of its birth.
Muhammad Ali might be able to proclaim "I am the greatest" and have people buy into it, but you won't.
Desires for personal glory will stifle the adoption of a new idea no matter how good. By allowing your personality to die in public perception you will allow your idea to live and grow and eventually people - as people do - will start searching for its creator and you will get the credit for everyone's ideas not just your own.
Who's the Ideaot now?