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The most important ingredient for good ideas is people

Good ideas do not just happen by themselves. Good ideas become real when people get together and make them happen. You might have all the budget you need, the best processes, robust frameworks and the latest technology, but if you do not have people inspired and motivated about the impact of the idea, quite simply, nothing happens.

Whether you are persuading your manager to test your ideas or motivating team to get on board to with your project or inspiring your peers to get involved the skill of inspiring and influencing others is crucial for your career development.

Persuading your manager

In your career you will have to influence your manager, perhaps to endorse your new idea, or to expand your experience through signing off a budget for a training course, or give you time to develop new projects. The day I shifted my mindset and acknowledged that part of my role was to help make my manager look good, my influencing abilities improved significantly. In my experience, people can be reluctant to take risks or try something new for fear of failure. So one of your influencing techniques with your manager is to give them confidence that the risk of failure is minimized and they will not lose face. You can do this by showing them what another manager, who is like them, that they respect, is doing that is working. Make it easy for them to say yes by suggesting a small test. For example I wanted to work with a new event supplier (when we had used the same one for many years), we tested the new supplier at one small event before making any big decisions, and it helped that another manager had worked with this supplier previously and recommended them.

Motivating your colleagues

People prefer to say yes to people they like. We also like people who are similar to us. You rely on your colleagues every single day. Yet how much do you know about them? Early in my career I had to work with the very overstretched database team on multiple projects. It was an understandably fractious relationship; we were all under a lot of pressure to deliver on many projects with conflicting deadlines. In the hope of building relationships I started going upstairs to their office to see them rather than emailing. One day I arrived at my colleagues’ desk at the same time as a delivery of shoes for a wedding they were going to. We spent 10 minutes trying on shoes discussing which would be most suitable with her dress. Others might have seen us and thought it was a frivolous waste of time, but after that the work got done more quickly, we had two-way dialogue about why I needed the data and we worked together to find the best way to get it.

The more you know about the people you want to inspire and influence, the more equipped you will be to think about the best way to approach them. You may not get it right first time, be resilient work out why it didn’t work and try again and keep trying because the only way you make your ideas happen is to work with and inspire others.

4 quick influencing tips

  • Work out how to make your manager look good
  • Minimize risk by trying something on a small scale to test if it works.
  • Work out the win for you and the person you are trying to influence
  • Spend time getting to know people.

For more on influencing and making your ideas happen check out The Innovation Workout.

A version of this blog was first published on the Guardian Voluntary Network. 

Five steps for producing ideas

In 1965 James Webb Young published a book called ‘A technique for producing ideas’. It’s a small and simple book. This blog is about what it says.

It talks about whether it is possible to identify a standard format for having ideas, so that ideas become a definite process, like an idea assembly line – in the same way that Henry Ford produced his Ford Model T.

Young starts on the premise that an idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements. And that the key to an effective idea process is an individuals’ ability to search for relationships between elements that turn separate unconnected bits of knowledge into something greater.

Young identified a five-step process for having ideas.

  1. Gather raw material; this is an ongoing process and includes two types of material. Firstly specific material related to the problem you are trying to solve, for example getting under the skin of your customer and really understanding where the opportunities are for you to add value. Secondly general material, which could relate to anything at all, for example the topics that interest you or you are passionate about. It is the combination of the specific and general material that you then have to opportunity to combine into something new. An example of this is when Steve Jobs dropped out of college. It gave him the opportunity to drop into classes that he was interested in. He attended calligraphy classes that had no practical application at the time, but years later he was able to combine this element when developing the fonts and design of the Apple Macintosh. He talks about this in his 2005 commencement speech
  2. Order and catalogue your thoughts; Young talks about Sherlock Holmes who spend hours indexing and cross-indexing his thoughts in scrapbooks (remember it was 1965). You too could keep a scrap-book and there are now also many online tools to gather your raw material in one place, for example Pinterest, your own blog, Slideshare or even Twitter. Then seek relationships; deliberately look for relationships within your gathered raw material. Write your random thoughts down and build on those thoughts. Young describes it as ‘listening for meaning rather than looking’
  3. Incubation; if you are following the process, at this stage you are likely to have a hopeless jumble of random thoughts. This stage is about putting the whole thing out of your mind. Go and do something else, anything else. Something that stimulates your mind and emotions, have a nap, go for a walk, read a novel, go to the movies, go the gym or phone a friend. This is a definite and necessary stage that allows the unconsciousness mind to processes your thoughts.
  4. Out of nowhere the idea will appear; according to Young this is the way ideas come, after you have stopped straining for them and have passed through a period of rest and relaxation from the search. The expression ‘sleep on it’ isn’t accidental. It is the process of your subconscious mind processing your thoughts
  5. Shaping and development of the idea; this is the really difficult bit. You have to be brave and put your idea out there.   You have to take your little new-born idea out into the world of reality and develop it to fit external constraints. This is where good ideas can easily get lost. However, according to Young, a good idea has self expanding qualities, it stimulates those who see potential to add to it and possibilities in it that you have overlooked will come to light.

If ideas are a new combination of old elements it is important to gather raw material by constantly expanding your experiences. So get out from behind your desk and experience more. It’s important.

A version of this blog was first published at Lucyinnovation.

Do you have an inner voice that sucks your confidence? You are not alone.

When I read sweeping research claims I do tend to take them with a pinch of salt. Here’s one ‘Women don’t apply for jobs unless 100% qualified and men will apply when they have only 60% of what’s required’

I first read this in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In with a raised eyebrow and I thought it was complete rubbish. Then I started to notice more. I spotted more women saying no to opportunities. Not going for the promotion. Not taking on the new project. Not stepping up. I heard the same clichés ‘I don’t think I can do it’ ‘I’m not qualified’ ‘So-and-so is better than me’ and ‘So-and-so deserves it’

I started quoting the 100% qualified vs 60% qualified research to them and asked them to prove it to be false by going for the promotion and taking the opportunities that they wanted and deserved.

Many did, and in the discussion about why they could and should step up, everyone revealed an inner dialogue that they’d had to overcome. Each person had their own name for it. The ‘official’ term is Imposter Syndrome, but amongst others, I met Jiminy Cricket, the little voice on my shoulder, ‘bad <insert persons name>’, devil’s advocate and my inner critic. The list was long.

For most of us (I have one too) the inner voice is like an old friend that sucks the fun and possibility out of your dreams and leaves you with a feeling of woeful uneasiness that if you get too big for your boots and put yourself out there you are going to ‘get found out’. Or worst still something bad will happen to pay you back for being greedy and wanting too much.

The little voice nags away, becomes louder, more insistent, more toxic until you just want to stick firmly with what you know because then you are safe and nothing bad will happen.

Sound familiar?

I disagree that the critical voice is just the territory of women, I think every human being has the voice. My hunch is that it’s the difference between how men and women manage their inner critic that is the difference that might mean that the 100% vs 60% has some truth to it.

Harvard Business Review claims that it’s not confidence that stops women going for the job, but a greater fear of failure because girls do better at school and it’s more instilled in us to follow rules and conform – and we perceive failure as having greater and longer lasting consequences. Conversely, men have a greater willingness to break rules and are less inclined to follow instructions (in the context of applying for jobs breaking the rules and ignoring instructions of needing a certain amount of qualifications and experience) and just apply for the job anyway. Men are better at ignoring or telling their inner critic to pipe down.

Make of it what you will, I see similar fears fuelled by the inner critics of both men and women I work with. That’s why I’m setting up The Lucidity Network – a learning and support network to give anyone confidence to squash Jiminy Cricket get the results they want. Sign up to Lucidity insights – a monthly-ish enewsletter if you’d like to know when the Lucidity Network is up and running – or just look out for #LucidityNetwork on Twitter.

Failure – it’s emotional

The principle that we learn from failure makes sense. Understanding why something hasn’t worked prevents us (hopefully) from making the same mistakes again and helps us to adapt and progress. However in practice it’s really hard to admit that we failed. We don’t like it. It’s emotional. It can feel painful.

We have opportunities to achieve great success if we can create environments or ways of working that allow us to test ideas, learn from failure, adapt quickly, test again and keep learning.

There is a renowned story about the charity Greenpeace and their ‘Dog’s Bollocks Award’ ceremony, where staff shared their failures. By encouraging staff to spotlight what didn’t work, Greenpeace achieved two key things:

  • Helping staff from around the world learn from each others’ mistakes
  • Demonstrating to staff that a certain level of risk and failure is acceptable, as long as the lessons are publicly acknowledged and not swept under the carpet

A team I worked with recently now has a ‘fail yea!’ slot on their monthly meeting. It deliberately forces people to consider and share what didn’t work so well, in order to help each other develop better solutions for next time. Pitched as a positive, ‘fail yea!’ has helped them develop their work, particularly around their events programme which has improved significantly because they were honest, challenged themselves on areas for improvement and were supportive to sharing and learning as a team.

Creating a safe environment where people can share and learn from failure is not easy, but it will lead to better results and help to prevent failures from being replicated. Here are five practical things that you can do to get started.

  1. Acknowledge that failure is emotional and a shift in mindset is required to even begin to address failure.
  2. Lead by example and start to share your own failures. Focus on what you have learned and what you will do differently next time.
  3. Ask your team and colleagues for their ideas about ways to make sharing failure and learning part of everyone’s day-to-day work.
  4. Consider a structured way to feedback and record failures, it might be a slot on a team meeting, or a part of a project group debrief, it could be awards or an online learning space to share failure. However you do it the focus is on the learning not the failure.
  5. Start right now and if it doesn’t work then adapt and try again – see point 2.

If you have other ways that are helping you learn from failure, please do share, either in the comments below or by email.

The secrets of larks and owls – because when you do things matters

I’ve been mocked for napping in the afternoon for many years so I was delighted to read Dan Pink’s latest book ‘When – the scientific secrets of perfect timing’ for his endorsement of napping as well as some fascinating insights about how absolutely everything is about timing.

Do you ever feel like you’ve hit a mental block or that you are working in slow motion in the early afternoon? Do you blame it on a post-lunch carb slump? It turns out that how you feel after lunch might be less about the carbs and more about you being a lark.

Dan’s research shows that adults broadly fall into two categories: larks and owls. As the name suggests larks rise early and do their best work in the mornings – owls follow a different pattern and do their best work later in the day. (There are also a few third birds who are somewhere in the middle but you need to read ‘When’ to find out more about them.)

Most of us are larks.

Dan’s research shows that we all fall into a daily pattern of when our brains are most alert, followed by a slump and then a recovery. Our lark or owl tendencies dictate at what times of day we are alert, slumping or recovering.

However, the research shows that it’s more than just about when we do our ‘best’ work. If you are a lark the morning is the best time for analytic tasks, tasks that you need to think about in detail, likewise morning is the best time to make decisions. Larks are better at insight tasks – tasks that require lateral thinking to solve problems during late afternoon or early evening when you are coming out of the slump. When you are right in the slump that’s the best time to do the admin tasks, the things you don’t need to think carefully about. Or better still take a short nap.

As a freelancer, I already work to this pattern when I can. I do the hardest stuff in the morning – the things I need to think about. I’ve learned that it’s much more efficient for me to get up earlier than keep working late at night. The same task can take half the time in the morning than it can the evening. I save the easier tasks for the afternoon slump and whenever I can I take a quick afternoon nap.

If you work 9-5 napping might be problematic, (unless you work at Google, famed for having sleep pods for employees to nap when they like) however within the framework of your day there are there things you can do to encourage your lark and owl traits to be more productive.

For example, if you are a team of larks and have a catch-up meeting in the morning – don’t. You are wasting the best part of your day on tasks that don’t need that morning analytical attention. Instead, have the catch up in the slump and focus on analytical tasks in the morning. If you are an owl can you start work later when you are at your best and work later in the evening?

What might you be able to do to adjust your ‘when’ and your teams ‘when’ in order to play to individual and team strengths and be more productive?

You can get your copy of ‘When’ the scientific secrets of perfect timing here.