What do you do when an employee comes to you with an idea that seems patently stupid? Or maybe not stupid exactly, just not that good? On the one hand, you want to encourage their initiative and engagement. On the other hand, you don’t want to waste anyone’s time. How should you respond?
First and foremost, keep an open mind. It’s not that there are no bad ideas – in fact, really great ideas are exceptionally rare. That said, it’s also possible that:
- A “Bad Idea” Turns Out to Be a Great Idea – Like Harry Potter for example. Now valued at over $25B, the Harry Potter franchise began with a humble book synopsis that was rejected by 12 publishers before finally being accepted by Bloomsbury
- A Truly Bad Idea Turns Into a Great Idea – For example, Slack. With a market cap currently sitting at just over $20B, Slack began as a bad idea called “Glitch,” a video game that emphasized collaboration over competition. When Glitch failed, co-founder Stewart Butterfield pivoted the company to focus on an internal messaging tool they had developed to improve team communication while working on Glitch. Within 2 years, Slack had been named Inc. Magazine’s company of the year and raised over $300M in venture capital. Within 5 years, the company had gone public.
So, keep an open mind. You would hate to be the publisher who turned down J.K. Rowling or the investor who failed to take a chance on Stewart Butterfield.
Recognize the Opportunity for Coaching & Developing
Have you heard the saying, “You can’t steer a docked ship?” It’s an aphorism that neatly summarizes everything that Stephen Covey was getting at when he declared “Be Proactive” as the very first among the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” When an employee comes to you with an idea, celebrate the fact that their motor is running! Don’t kill the engine, steer the ship.
Remember that the Process Is the Best Teacher
Like many American dads, I spent a few years of my life coaching youth soccer where we were constantly reminded that “the game is the best teacher.” I.e. rather than lecturing, demonstrating, or even drilling – just let the kids play ball. It’s the best way for them to learn. Similarly, the best way for your employee to learn …
- The merits and demerits of their idea,
- The innovation process, and
- Many MBA-level insights and skills …
is simply to let them engage the innovation process.
Afterall, the innovation process was specifically designed to expose the errors of bad ideas as quickly and cheaply as possible. Therefore, the best way to “steer the ship” is simply to encourage your employee to engage the innovation process. If the idea is (or becomes) good, it will succeed. If it’s not, the innovator will discover that on his/her own. Therefore, when an employee comes to you with an idea ...
- Teach them the critical questions that every business idea must answer and challenge them to create a first draft of their answers by completing a Business Idea Canvas.
- Teach them the criteria by which ideas are evaluated and then challenge them to self-evaluate their idea and review the results with you.
- Be candid but respectful with your feedback. I.e. be hard on the idea but soft on the person. That’s part of the process too.
The LaunchPath innovation platform was designed precisely for this use case. Rather than having to conduct a weekly coaching session with your innovative employee, you can let them get started in LaunchPath where they will be guided through the process and trained as they go. And when they’re ready for your input, you will have a shared vocabulary, framework, and process that will empower you to kill bad ideas while nurturing good employees.