Creative LeadershipCreativity

Great Ideas are a Two Way Street

I’m an idea person.  I love them.  I cultivate them.  And I want our company to value them, and our clients to benefit.  I’ve written a lot about the importance of creating a culture in your organization that encourages original thinking.  Not enough leaders know how to grow and develop innovative people.  However – there’s a flip side to the equation – and that’s the responsibility to respect talented people and not waste their time.

I once had a young employee who was brand new to the business.  He needed time to learn and grow.  But from his first day on the job, he felt compelled to share every idea that popped into his head.  He would interrupt meetings over and over, and passionately explain his ideas – no matter how lame or unworkable they were.

At first I put up with it, because you never know where your next great idea will come from.  But then I realized what a drag he was on everyone else’s creativity.  Even though he had no experience at all in our company or business – he had no hesitation interrupting far more experienced and original thinkers and spouting his bonehead theories.

I talked to him about it, but nothing could stop his torrent of bad ideas. So he doesn’t work with us anymore.

There’s no question – it’s a delicate balance between creating an open atmosphere of original thinking, and yet valuing the people in the room. Respect other creative talent.   Don’t censor yourself too much, but take a deep breath, consider your own experience and expertise, and be very sensitive to the responsibility of being on a creative team.

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  1. Wow!  I’ve never seen anyone put this dilemma into words before.  It’s dangerous ground for sure – because for the most part “ideas” are political fodder.  That’s why I believe it makes better sense to use marketing research and listen to the consumer – before execution of ideas. Most ideas are born out of opinions instead of research. The most intelligent ideas + the opportunity for thorough execution get stifled by the constant barrage of new ideas. It is TRULY as delicate balance. 

    Thanks for sharing your story with us.


    Merry Christmas,



  2. I'm a "cause and effect" sort of guy.  As such, I am somewhat curious about what sparked you to write this particular post on this particular day.

    To weigh in, I'm not always sure that it's the experienced people who should have the upper hand in creative think tanks.  Certainly, experience goes a long way.  By now, I have a good bit myself and wouldn't dream of giving up too much control to a "green-dreamer."  

    The fact is, I've got too much riding on it.

    In touchy situations, I generally find it's safest to use "risk-management" as the stated purpose for calming the newbies. 9.9 times out of 10, the newbie has absolutely nothing to lose by spouting off wild ideas.  That said, the ability to be unrestrained or grotesquely creative (an asset if we're honest about it) can certainly be lost over time… and that can be bad for any of us.

    Instead of crushing the young spirit by pulling the "experience" card, I sometimes feel better about saying that those who have invested the most (read: those who stand to really lose something) have a voice. Those who have nothing to lose have no voice whatsoever. Between the two are shades of grey, moving from the small investors to the largest.  Each has a respectively different degree of "say."  In the end, this approach not only makes intellectual sense to the newbie, it actually challenges them to find ways in which they can lay something on the line (if they desire to have a voice). Essentially, if they want a voice, they have to buy in.  This may mean they have to spend more time, more money, or do things that aren't in their job description. If they cannot or will not step up, then being silenced has become their own choice and you spare them the humiliation.

    In the end, I think the need to silence the young thinkers comes more from the personal frustration that we all have when we practically kill ourselves to climb the mountain, and then find a little nerdling who's been hanging onto our coattails. 

    If you want a voice, pull your weight and climb the mountain. If you want a big voice, be the first one or the best one to climb the mountain… at least compete a little. If you wanna be "the man" then fund the climb.  

  3. To some degree this is a generational thing. I see this all the time as a college professor.  Digital media gives everyone a voice regardless of proven chops or not.  So, students come to the table at best naive, at worst entitled and arrogant.  Recognizing any type of "experience required" is something they already assume they have tackled.  So, it can be really challenging to let them on the bus without derailing the trip.  I find squashing them like a bug is really effective.  Ok, maybe not TOTALLY squashing them.  But, one thing they have to realize is that if they don't learn to constructively edit their own ideas someone will squash them.  If not me, the audience will. Better for me to do it when it comes with suggestions for improvement than an audience who just switches to a different channel.  Discipline is as much a part of the creative process as freedom is.  

    Having said all that.  Brainstorming is a slightly different environment.  Self-editing can be hazardous.  And listening to crappy ideas comes with the cost of doing business.  If someone really does continuously offer bad ideas that fail to stimulate good ones from anyone else, maybe they shouldn't be in the room – or maybe you should just put something in their drink.  Just kidding – I would never do that.

  4. Oh, Phil, you are right on.  Again.

    I have been in the room with that so-called green thinker…and no matter what is said, he/she thinks they have all the answers.  Never mind testing, track record, understanding of the audience. They unplug their ipod for a nano-second and instantly leap in with crazy ideas flying. You want to mentor them, educate them, value them.  

    But first, sadly, you want to slap them. 

  5. I think we all can benefit from watching this video from John Francis talks about the art of listening (among other things).

    It’s very insightful and gets closer to the root of why people love to talk and the amazing things that can happen when we listen and are forced to be creative in other ways than ‘speech.’

    In reality, we’re all at different stages on ‘green’ in the grand scheme of things. In general, younger people just tend to be a whole lot ‘greener’ than others. 🙂 How do we learn ways to mentor them in the journey?

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    Author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

  6. I appreciate the reminder. I know I get caught up in so many ideas coming across my desk that I have to remind myself to be open to new things God may be bringing me in order not to miss out on new things. I also often feel torn in actively listening to my people as we're trying to implement several of the good ideas we have, and yet also allow room for their other ideas.  I work on slowing down a bit to pay better attention to them.  I've had to write my own ideas down and sit on them to see if they are good a bit later still.  I know I need to get them out somewhere in order to keep moving on the current things.  That's probably something I should implement with my people too! 🙂

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