There are times when I’m not a very subtle person. I get enthusiastic about a new brainstorm and want to share with others right away. Why I don’t know better after decades in this world, I don’t know. But maybe writing about it will help me – and you! – in laying the groundwork for your next great idea to flourish and grow.
Tired of garden metaphors yet? I’ll be quick. New ideas are seeds that require:
Sunlight: Warmth, transparency, energy
Water: A passionate commitment to seeing growth happen
Weeding: Focus, the removal of environmental obstacles and toxic substances
But First…. your idea MUST HAVE…..
Good Soil: A nutritious environment rich in necessary elements and free of rocks, pests and poisons. The only way you get that information is by….
Asking The Right Questions!
Ok – tired garden metaphor – done.
I’m writing about this because I did it again. Went diving into a new board membership opportunity and announced a great new idea via email before I even got the lay of the land. Stupid, right? Now I get to deal with the fallout. I’ll survive. I just hope my great idea can survive.
Here’s what I should have asked myself going in before opening my big mouth.
1. What color is this eco-culture? What is the general tone of the group? Serious? Playful? Focused? Is that tone one you feel comfortable blending with, or can you provide something that might be missing in order to balance the group? Playful groups could benefit from some focus. Serious groups could enjoy some levity. Focused groups might provide opportunities to explore new angles….without derailing the central purpose. What is the relative pace of this group? Are they deliberate? Careful in researching information before coming to conclusions? Or are they fast paced and wanting to get out of there asap? Somewhere in between? Finding the tone and pace of a group and deciding where to blend in and where to balance it will give you a sense of the best context (tone and timing) for presenting your idea.
2. Who is in charge? That is, who holds the power, authority and wisdom of experience who can make or break your idea in seconds or bit by bit over time. You may think your group has a flat authority structure – all voices have equal weight – and you are more naive than I am. Wake up, look around, and see who in the room is having the final say before the group moves on to another topic. This may or may not be the ones who hold titles. It could also be the person in the corner with steepled hands and a look of intense concentration. Notice the body language. Are people nodding when this person speaks? Does he/she get eye contact from everyone? This is your power player – make this person your BFF, or at least a potential ally. What do they want? More detail in the plan? More simplicity in execution? Better communication channels? Perhaps even more relevant – What don’t they want? More work on their part is almost guaranteed to top this list, along with monetary expenditures, more meetings, and schedule collisions. Allay their anxiety. Figure out what you can provide this person and make it happen.
3. Who else can you build alliances with to get your idea off the ground? What current ideas/actions/initiatives do these people support or lead? Is there a way to contribute to their efforts? What is the necessary task that no one seems willing to do? Can you be willing to do it? At least in the short term? Taking something off the group’s plate builds leverage for future alliances.
4. What problem needs solving? How does your idea connect with a larger issue facing the group? Is there a chronic problem your idea could go a distance to address? What has already been tried in addressing it? You don’t want to march your great idea in there and find out….. it’s been done. Plus – It tanked. Wah wah. Which brings us to perhaps the most important question…..
5. What can go wrong? This needs to be answered by you before going in. And it is often the last thing I want to wrestle with when I’m building my idea on the adrenalin of inspiration. But this question needs to be thoroughly addressed prior to going in to a new setting so you can build needed credibility (shows you’ve done your homework) and buy-in from those skeptics who’s job it is to defend the Status Quo. You need to do the skeptic’s work yourself and put your idea through the wringer before the meeting. No one appreciates having to spend valuable group time doing your due diligence for you.
Good news. My idea survived! And the Board President even gave it a title he’s quite proud of – nice! Of course, it got significantly watered down, and now has fins instead of wings….. but that’s a metaphor for another post. I hope you can take these questions with you and build a better foundation for your next Big Idea….