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Multiply Ideas By Sharing
By Tom Dennis –
President, Effective Engineering [email@example.com]
working on an important project and you’re determined to complete the
project yourself, to demonstrate your capabilities and ability to
deliver on a critical commitment. You have stubbornly refused the help
generously offered by others, believing that doing so would show
weakness and a lack of technical understanding and ability. But now you
feel like a marathon runner who has ‘hit the wall’. You’ve
exhausted all of the ideas you have to solve the many issues you’re
grappling with, and aren’t sure what to try next, what to do next, or
where to turn. But you’re afraid to admit that you’ve hit an impasse for
fear that it will reflect badly on you and your currently positive
reputation in your organization (see
Embarrassment Rules the World? and
Take the Time to Think!). What can you do to revive
yourself, get your creative juices running again, and come up with new
approaches to solve your problems?
If you want to spur new ideas, for yourself or for others in your
organization, the best thing you can do is to share your ideas and
ask for others in return. It may seem counterintuitive to you, but
it’s true! You will multiply ideas by sharing them! There
is a famous quotation from
George Bernard Shaw:
"If you have an apple
and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will
still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea
and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."
So swallow your pride. In
your case, you’re about to experience “pride goeth before a fall”
first hand! Your pride won’t mean much if you fail miserably on this
critical assignment. One person can’t know all there is to know on a
subject, as you’re learning first hand. Others will undoubtedly be able
to bring a fresh perspective to your problems with many new ideas on
ways to solve them. So search them out and ask for help!
This situation, though extreme, is far from rare. Even people who
regularly share ideas and ask for help may find themselves in situations
where they become reluctant to do so, for whatever reason. It is
critical that they come to their senses and recognize the power of
multiplying ideas by sharing.
How does this work? First, you need to work up the courage to ask for
help. Then you can start the process by throwing out one idea, and
asking for more. That triggers an idea from another person, which
provides an alternate route toward solving your problem. That idea
triggers an idea from another person that turns the problem inside out
and enables you and others to view the problem from an entirely
different perspective with a range of not only new potential solutions,
but also of new directions from which to attack the problem. Soon you
have more ideas and approaches than you ever thought possible, all by
simply asking others for their ideas and perspectives.
Recognize that there will be good ideas, bad ideas, so-so ideas, and
what appear to be totally unrelated or even ‘stupid’ ideas. Don’t
discard any of them. Write them all down. You never know where the
solution to your problem will come from, and you never know when a
‘stupid’ idea will, in retrospect, turn out to be ‘brilliant’
for your problem, or a great starting point for another problem yet to
Here are some ‘rules of the road’ to consider in handling the new
ideas raised by sharing:
- Don’t hoard ideas. Share them openly and watch them multiply.
New ideas allow you look at the problem from different perspectives.
Encourage people to state their ideas,
even those who are, by nature, shy and perhaps fearful of speaking up.
You never know what brilliant thoughts may be lurking behind a shy
Think of ways to improve upon an
existing idea. Can any
potential improvements provide the best solution?
Ask others, and yourself, to think
outside the box. You need
to consider ideas that may seem foreign at the time.
Ask everyone to throw new ideas out, regardless how far out there or
outlandish, and then write them down (probably best on a white board or
flip chart so they are visible for everyone to see and think about). The
rule should be that no ideas are bad ideas.
When the stream of new ideas slows
(but always allow new ideas to be added to the mix at any time), it
is time to sort them in a variety of ways. For example:
• By ease of implementation
• By ability to solve all of the issues
• By cost to implement
• By effort to implement
• By time to implement
• By whatever other ways you can think of
Next, list what you see as the elements of effective solutions. For
Group the ideas in categories like ‘must have’, ‘good to have’, ‘like to
have’, ‘nice to have’, ‘not critical’, and ‘unnecessary’.
Which ideas are most important to an effective solution?
What is likely the resulting priority
order of those elements?
Which are most (or least) likely to impact released product or service?
Add your own ways to evaluate the ideas.
You may have a different approach that you feel works better for you. If
so, go with it! What is important is to maximize the ideas and find
effective ways to solve your problems.
Remember, projects are not zero-sum games, where the results are simply
the independent contributions of many people being stitched together
according to a project plan. The reality in most projects is that
something happens along the way that makes them exceed all expectations,
meet expectations, fail miserably, or something in between these
outcomes. The good projects, for all involved, are those where the
results exceed all expectations. Generally that only happens when the
people involved work well together, freely share ideas, and build
upon idea after idea to envision and deliver a result better than ever
It comes down to synergy. Synergy is the concept that the whole is
greater than the sum of its parts. In
Pigasus – When Pigs Fly!, I discuss what can happen when
teams of bright and highly motivated people who work together
exceptionally well get involved in the right project or effort. The
result can be simply amazing and a joy to behold!
Much of that synergy is the result of
freely sharing ideas to develop more and better ideas!
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