Getting brilliant ideas from staff contributes to everyone's success. Often, there are barriers to getting ideas, basically filters that everyone has, including you and your staff.
Recognizing them and then dealing with them is the key to unlocking ideas that are hidden in the corners. No need to think outside the box, there are lots of excellent ideas within reach. Here are the 5 barriers from the book “Thinking Into The Corners”. More details on how to mitigate them and how to prepare in advance and then deal with them within an idea session or brainstorming session are expanded on in the book.
We wear sunglasses because they provide a level of self-protection from the environment and the people who populate it. From an organizational management and change perspective, however, sunglasses act as a filter that keep us from recognizing solutions that aren't even outside the box.
Sunglasses act as an internal (personal) filter. Because they limit our view, they contribute to a reluctance for change that comes from being “set in our ways.” In essence, they protect our own status quo—and prevent us from seeing what’s really there. Sunglasses help us justify an existing state of affairs.
The end result is a propensity to maintain present circumstances. Sunglasses lead us to make statements like, “that’s the way it’s always been done” and “we don’t try ideas that haven’t worked before.” This filter lets us hold onto our assumptions. It also prevents us from getting new information. Indeed, sunglasses nurture our own bias towards experts, authorities and even our boss’s opinions.
To be clear, this filter’s negative impact is not always intentional. Many factors impact our ability to suppress or limit our own thinking and the sunglass filter is simply one way to describe what’s going on.
The time/effort filter often applies when the solution or initiative that may result from the idea will take time and effort to implement. When everyone is already busy (or perceives themselves as busy), it’s sometimes easier to stay quiet instead of making suggestions you may have to act on.
This says more about resources and effort than it does about being lazy. More importantly, this filter prevents you and your staff from getting into the corners to identify new ideas and solutions simply because they may require effort to plan and implement.
The external limitations of time/effort aside, we must acknowledge that this filter dampens our creativity. To some extent, we all use this filter to balance our lives. At work, this filter minimizes the risk of failure related to taking on additional tasks that could impact our ability meet production and performance measurements.
Type “A” personalities are often immune since they typically have no problem staying late or working at home to perfect their work.
But for many others, ideas that threaten to take extra time, keep us from our personal lives and families or require additional effort, may never see the light of day.
This filter is at work every time people see something that could be improved, but decide against taking action because they don’t want to risk adding more weight to their own workload. While assessing time and effort against benefits is a valid way to prioritize, it’s best to formally assess the ideas rather than making assumptions in our minds. Sometimes you can get brilliant ideas from people when they know they won't have extra workload to implement.
This filter affects idea generation by encouraging everyone to agree—without really talking or thinking about the topic at hand. Group think kicks in when it seems easier or better to move on with an issue. Those affected may simply want to minimize their risk of being the only one with a contrarian viewpoint. It can also result from issues discussed in the next section, Managing The Personalities. When certain personalities are at work, group think occurs because participants don’t want to put forth ideas that might be challenged.
The group think filter undermines idea generation because it encourages participants to abdicate their responsibilities or opinions to the group. They do this to avoid presenting contrary views or because they figure others are better positioned to know the right path to take.
Group think can also be about letting someone else take the risk with new ideas. Here, it makes it easy for individuals to simply “go along” with someone else instead of stretching and coming up with other solutions.
To be clear, group think results from lazy thinking. When one person comes up with an idea that might work, others stop thinking about the problem, which means otherwise brilliant ideas may never be brought forward. You need to press the participants for other ideas when this happens.
The deferral filter’s power comes from the fact that people don’t want to rock the boat or take the effort necessary to argue or advocate for ideas or change. It’s easier to agree with others and move on, particularly if the one advocating change (or the status quo) is the boss or someone identified as being the expert.
Deferral occurs when everyone agrees with or defers to the boss or the presumed subject matter expert and is resigned to keeping the status quo or accepting a solution or idea they don’t believe in.
This is particularly a problem when dominant participants are the first to talk, especially when they present an idea or position that others are reluctant to challenge.
Many people are hesitant to challenge the boss or someone who is seen as the subject matter expert. Sometimes you need to have brainstorming or idea sessions without the boss (even you) involved to get brilliant ideas from staff.
How much risk you are willing to take on defines how far you can stretch for ideas. The risk aversion filter can have personal and business implications. When you and your team don’t look at ideas and solutions that may present risk, you limit your ability to improve results.
Risk aversion is a powerful motivator and an influential filter.
A personal risk, such as job security, creates the kind of filter that promotes sabotage and decreases authentic participation.
Participants identify as “risky” ideas that may fail, foster ridicule, cause harm related to disagreeing with the boss or impair their work environment through implementation. Removing the risk will help foster brilliant ideas that are suppressed.
For more information about the concept that this article comes from, check out the book "Thinking Into The Corner" available in both soft cover and ebook format. It's part of the Quick Guides for Managers series, so it is formatted as a quick and easy reference book.