When a team member brings you an idea

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Ideas are the raw materials of innovation

Innovation is the key to competitive success, but innovation is an end product. Ideas are the raw materials that are combined and modified to produce innovation. If you want great innovation you have to start by getting as many ideas as possible. That should be easy.

Why many ideas don’t get turned into innovation

People have ideas all the time. Having ideas is what human beings do. Not only that, many of those ideas are about work and how to do things better.

So why don’t those ideas become innovations?

Schools train us not to share new ideas

In school, students learn that the way to be successful is to come up with ideas that the teacher already has. If your ideas make the teacher uncomfortable, things are not likely to end well. But in the real world the best ideas are the disruptive, comfort-destroying ideas.

In school there’s one right answer to every question. But in the real world some questions have lots of answers that work and some questions don’t have an answer.

In school, ideas are judged as right or wrong, good or bad. But in the real world ideas are modified, combined, and tweaked before they turn into innovation.

The result of our educational system is that people show up at work wary of suggesting new ideas. When some brave soul gets up the courage to present an idea, it’s often killed on the spot.

Stopping innovation at the source

Most bosses and organizations don’t mean to shut down the source of all innovation. It just seems to happen naturally.

It happens when the boss treats the idea as an interruption, something that’s not part of the “real work.” It happens when ideas and the people who bring them are belittled, put down, or ignored. It happens when the people who bring ideas are considered “difficult.”

How to put more good ideas to work and improve morale, too.

Start by saying “Thank you.” In most organizations today, bringing a new idea to the boss is an act of courage. So if you want team members to bring you their ideas, you have to make it safe and easy.

After you say “Thank you,” give the person and his or her idea some time and attention. Demonstrate that you value the effort by giving it time. Say something like the following.

“Show me.”

“Let’s try that.”

“How can we test that?”

“What else would we need to make your idea work?”

Boss’s Bottom Line

Make it safe, easy, and rewarding for people to bring you their ideas.

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