You want a staff that generates new ideas, but you’re not going to be able to say yes to every new idea someone comes up with. But if you say no enough, you risk shutting down the flow of creativity. Sometimes, though, you can turn bad ideas into good ones, with a little effort – and in the process, coach your team members to refine their suggestions so that they become stronger over time. Here’s how.
- Look for what’s good in the idea, even if it’s just a kernel. Maybe the idea itself is workable or unrealistic, but perhaps there’s something good somewhere in there. For example, you might not be able to implement someone’s idea for a massive blow-out bash for your summer fellows, but you might recognize the value in doing something to recognize the fellows’ work and build camaraderie, so you might ask if there are other ways to achieve that goal. Phrases that can help:
- “I like element X – how might we build on that?”
- “What I like about that is…”
- “I like that you’re thinking about X.”
- At the core of that idea, I think you’re getting at…”
- Isolate the piece that won’t work and ask if there’s a way around it. You might find that with some refining, the idea can turn into something more useful. And even if you determine that the whole idea is pretty bad, discussing it will give your group a chance to develop some shared evaluative principles.
- Test it with real-world concretes. For example, if a staff member proposes a new service you could offer to clients, you might say, “Can we take two real-life current clients and talk through how that would work for them? How would we pitch it to them, and how would the work likely play out?” In grounding the discussion in real-world examples, the weaknesses of the idea might quickly become apparent – but you might also be able to isolate the pieces that won’t work and some pieces that do, and then build on the latter.
- Be sure it’s really a bad idea. It can be easy to say no to something quickly – and sometimes we do it too quickly, especially if an idea is completely new to us. Before you say no, invest a little bit of time in taking it seriously and talking about how it would work and what the likely results would be. You might still end up at “no,” but you’ll demonstrate to employees that you value their thoughts enough to give their ideas real respect and exploration.