Sunday, March 2, 2014

How to Kill a Good Idea

If you ever find yourself in a position of some authority you will be able to push your own projects forward -- and I hope they are good ones because they are going to be a lot more interesting to you than anything else is. Other people will have ideas too and fortunately they will often be flawed. When that happens just sit them down and carefully explain where they went wrong.  Be as encouraging as you can.  

Sometimes their idea may be  good; this is where real leadership comes in.  You must be quick and ready with a response.   You have to assess the proposal, the person you’re dealing with, the climate, the surroundings, the level of threat.  Think of it as a pathogen and you are the antibody; be decisive and quick.  This is a direct challenge for the resources you need to put toward yourself.

It would look bad just to fire them, and anyway you might need creative people around in a pinch. But that good idea has to go
... unless you can steal it, which is the best option for all the obvious reasons, if you can pull it off.  If the idea hasn’t been shared in a public forum, or if it wasn’t fully formed, or it came from someone with no status or power -- perfect.  They may even be flattered that their brainchild has been … “adopted" by someone who is actually in a position to raise it up.  Don't feel bad about calling it yours -- it’s an opportunity for them to practice gratitude and humility.  That’s very character building.

But what if you can’t take credit, how do you kill a good idea?  Here are some things to consider.

Ignore it.
You were just too busy to open their email or return their call (yes, you’re that important ). They may take their idea somewhere else, if you're lucky.  Then it won’t be your problem.  Added bonus: after your dominance has been well established you'll get fewer calls to ignore. 

Let’s not, and say we did.
Don't say this outright, of course but this one is fun because there's a lot of pretending involved.  You have to take on a little bit of the project, of course -- but very very little.  There, it’s done. 
But we already went over that!
Express surprise.  They’ll think they missed an important meeting, that they’re out of the loop.
That won’t work, but I can’t tell you why 
Say it like you know something that they don't know and that you're even protecting them from a political gaffe or pointless effort "Oh nope!  Trust me.  That'll go nowhere."  Give someone nearby a knowing smile, that’ll surely throw them off track.

Great idea, why don't you do it?
Only use this one if they've come to you for help, not for permission, or it may backfire.  But if you're certain they don't have the resources to follow through it will end nicely all around.

It’s too late for that!
Goodness gracious, why didn't you suggest that when it would have been helpful?  Say it with incredulity and you’ll really drive it in, ouch! 
I'll take it from here
Then just put it on the back burner indefinitely.

That breaks best practices
This is one of my favorites, but use it sparingly.  Not only are you cool, for the jargon, but it will look like there actually is a list of "best practices" -- and you know what they are. It's like priesthood almost.

There's a committee already working on that
It could actually be true -- who would know?  But imply that their work is duplicative and therefore a waste of everyone's time.

That’s already been decided
This is a quick straight-arm technique.  Sure, it’s rude, it’s blunt, but sometimes you don’t have to care.
Nice idea, but there are more important things to do
(Yes, that’s right -- your things.) 

There’s no budget for that
This may work if there is even a little money involved.  You’re also showing that you know the financials; they don’t.  And that’s that.

Someone would sue us if we did that
It's not illegal, we'd win for sure.  That's not the issue.  But lawsuits are expensive!  Surely they'll understand.

An attack diversion
Use this as a last resort and only when the good idea is really bad for you. Accuse them of being sexist or racist, or homophobic -- use any of those conversation stoppers and be vehement and intimidating so everyone around you is cowed, and will appear to agree.

Let's do a study!
Involve them designing an elaborate survey to measure the viability of the plan.  If it comes back positive,  misinterpret the results in the conclusion of a "final report."  No one will read the report but the matter will be put to rest.

You need to talk to Joe
There is no Joe, but send them to someone peripheral and let them try to find their way back.
I have something else for you to do
Oh, listen, that's nice but I need you to do something for me.  (And you should think twice before promoting your own ideas again, upstart).

We've tried it and it didn't work
Been there, done that.  Particularly with newcomers, this will set them back.  It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not; they won’t likely question history.
We'll discuss it at the next meeting
Say this at every meeting.  Notice you’re not actually saying no, you’re willing to discuss it.  So they should be happy. 

It’s against policy
It’s just a bit risky if there is no such policy.  But then, who knows policy?  Anyway what is policy?  With a small p it could mean anything … even best practices which just means “a pretty good idea, says me.”

I can’t hear you.
Don’t say this, of course.  But pretend you don't understand their proposal. "Huh?"  "What?"  Misinterpret, mix up some important details. Pretend to be baffled; it could even be fun.

Say something crazy
We don't need [a stick in the sand -- (their idea)] ... we already have [a paper airplane].  It'll be so unexpected that you may get the stunned silence you're after. Then change the subject.

I’ll warn you that in a weak moment you might catch yourself actually listening, as if it might be a legitimate idea worth real consideration.  You might even find yourself wondering  “hmm… wouldn’t that be something, is it worth a try? Maybe I could actually help make that happen?” But then it’ll hit you: “Why didn’t I think of that?”  No good.  That’s the signal that it's time to pull the rip cord:  

I’ve got to go
Look at your watch and exclaim “Oh my god. I have another meeting!”  That’s right.  You just called it. With yourself. In the coffee lounge.

Another crisis averted.

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