Did the Sharks Eat Your Idea?

In my travels around corporate America I’m frequently asked for suggestions to make Imagecreativity and innovation a permanent part of the culture. “How do you institutionalize it?” they ask.  It’s a good question and important to ensuring that employees have the ability to develop new ideas. Many good ideas fizzle out, never making it to prototyping or testing.

There is nothing more fragile than a new idea. When you come up with one during a brainstorm session, (assuming you’re brave enough to throw one out  and  risk being perceived as sub-intelligent  because the idea isn’t perfect), the filters appear. Reasons why it won’t work pop up right away – it costs too much, it doesn’t fit the strategy, or the market just isn’t ready for it. There are always lots of reasons why it won’t work.

So the voices of judgment filter out that idea and you know the rest. Companies end up designing incremental improvements, but nothing exciting.

The other day a client announced that they were going to raise the bar. They are going to turn creativity and innovation into a contest and really have some fun. It would be their rendition of Shark Tank. Give everyone the opportunity to come forth with an idea. All they have to do is present it to the senior team and be prepared to defend themselves for the attack.

Well, no doubt they’ll get some takers. The strong, vocal and probably more senior folks in the company will present some ideas. They’ll be real careful to be politically correct so they don’t step on anyone’s toes. They’ll be highly logical so the idea can withstand the toughest criticism. And they’ll ensure that the new idea is something that will fit within the budget. For their sake, I hope I’m wrong, but my prediction is that it will be fun at first, but then will sizzle out. What’s wrong with this approach?

With all due respect, I  think that Shark Tank is a terrific show. It’s entertaining, refreshing and some excellent ideas are presented. But this approach doesn’t have longevity inside a company because:

– Only a small percentage of the creative thinking will be unleashed. There’s lots of creativity within the ranks that with just a little stoking can learn to develop the seeds of their ideas into something great. In a shark tank approach, it is only the vocal, brave and probably more senior folks who will participate. It’s intimidating to face the senior team to ‘sell’ an idea. They are the folks who employ you so why risk your job, reputation and future within the company? If your idea is ‘out there’, and you can’t  persuade them otherwise, there’s a lot at stake for you.

Seeds of ideas don’t fit the cost, budget or strategy. While in the realm of illogic or even ridiculousness, they are to be massaged and stroked, and further developed until they begin to form. Only then can they be built into something great. There are no sharks. No voice of judgment. Not yet.

New ideas are fragile and need protection.  They need dolphins that can protect them from the sharks until they’re developed into solid, workable and practical ideas. Only then can they withstand the shark attacks, but then they will likely survive.


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