Sometimes design is about effecting change. So here’s John Kotter’s very useful change model – From his book Leading Change
- Establish a sense of urgency
- Form a powerful guiding coalition
- Create a vision
- Communicate the vision
- Empower others to act on the vision
- Plan for/create short term wins (communicate them)
- Consolidate improvements and accelerate change
- Institutionalize new approaches
Executive support and involvement is required to effect change. Specifically with steps one through three.
Great, you have an idea. Assuming your idea is good, realize you’re not special, you’re no different than yesterday because of your idea, and your idea isn’t going to save lives, change the world, or make a difference. In fact, that person next to you on the bus has a good idea too, and so does your next door neighbor, perhaps even the same idea you have. Indeed there may even be thousands of people walking around right now with the same idea you have. There may even have been multiple past generations of people with the same good idea you have right now, years before you. Sorry to disappoint, but your ideas don’t make you unique. It’s what you do with your ideas that set you apart.
So what then, will save lives, change the world, or make a difference? Take action. There are indeed very few people who actually do something about their good ideas. People who do things with good ideas are very rare.
So if so many people have good ideas, why don’t more people do things with their good ideas? The most likely reason is, fear of failure. Add onto this fear, the simple fact that there are likely close to one hundred thousand reasons not to do something with your idea. It could be too risky, too expensive, too scary, too radical, too disruptive, too supportive, too unusual, too obvious, I call these counterarguments. Then if that’s not enough to stop you dead in your tracks, things get even further complicated when ideas are socialized. There are all sorts of people out there that for one reason or another will expend enormous amounts of energy telling you why your ideas are bad and why you should hang it up now. I call these people the naysayers. The combination of fear-of-failure, counterarguments, and naysayers combined stop 99% of people with good ideas. All of this tips the scales for most people in terms of cost benefit. The possible costs of failure, the energy required to unlock each counterargument, and the potential social embarrassment are just too much for most people, and so sadly good ideas fade.
So how do some rare individuals manage to overcome all of these obstacles and see their ideas through to fruition? What do they do differently? While I can’t speak for everyone out there here are three things I’ve identified over the years that have helped be work through these tough issues.
- Embrace failure as a necessary step towards success
- Involve naysayers early… while avoiding yeasayers
- Involve yeasayers later… to help convince the naysayers
Embrace failure as a necessary step towards success
The truth is, there is only one reason to do something; to learn from it. You will never know unless you try… and perhaps even more importantly, no one else will ever know unless you (or someone else) try. All human learning is rooted in trial-and-error. From the Wright Brothers we have Boeing. It won’t ever fly if you don’t try. If you fail make sure you learn. True failure is ‘failure absent of learning.’
Involve naysayers early…
Ironically it has been my consistent observation that the better ‘your idea,’ the greater the resistance to it. There will always be masses of naysayers telling you why your idea is bad. Identify the individuals who have an intrinsic gift for naysaying, you want only the experts naysayers, then involve them, and put them to work for you. By involving naysayers and hearing all of the objections, contradictions, feedback, and concerns, you begin to quickly realize that these folks are indeed helping you by asking really really good, really tough questions. By finding clever answers to them you are systematically improving your idea. By working through the issues, you may even convert a few naysayers to yeasayers, although this isn’t your goal. Improving your idea is your primary goal, building credibility is second.
Of course no self respecting naysayer will even consider participating unless your idea is worthy of their efforts. So make sure you ask a few good questions yourself first. You only want to bring good ideas to court.
Here are several good questions to ask of any idea to qualify it as a good idea:
- Should you even do blah?
- What do you mean by blah?
- What are you assuming by blah?
- How do you know blah?
- What caused blah?
- Are there any other possible solutions to blah?
- What are the short term/medium term/long term consequences of blah?
- What should be done?
…while avoiding yeasayers
If early in the process you only seek out yeasayers with your idea, sure you’ll fell good getting pat on the back, and repeatedly told how brilliant you are, but this will fill you with a false sense of confidence. You must avoid this, tempting as it may be. If you haven’t thought through your ideas, this will eventually be exposed, and all credibility lost.
The simple truth is yeasayers won’t give you critical feedback, even if they think your ideas are faulty. They won’t help you improve your idea, they won’t help you improve your thinking. Save the yes men for later, right now this only serves to accelerate you towards failure.
In this way yeasayers work against you. I know, it’s counterintuitive.
Involve yeasayers later… to help convince the naysayers
Once you’ve worked with enough naysayers to ensure your ideas are bulletproof, and you’ve thought through every possible edge-case, technical constraint, and exception, realize you alone can’t convince everybody. So find your best salesmen, your yeasayers! Get them involved now to help you sell your ideas. This is when yeasayers are at their best. Their unbridled optimism is so infectious that in this way you’re simultaneously building momentum and credibility. Congratulations everyone is on board and you’re one step closer to making your ideas real.