Thursday, July 28, 2011

Create More Moving Ideas by Moving Your Ideas

In my first association job, sharing drafts of projects you were working on with the entire the team was the norm: everyone had voice into our major initiatives.  Feedback would range from correcting typos to suggesting major shifts in strategy.  Ultimately, you decided the best path forward, but it was now informed by others' perspectives.

In those days, you routed a paper draft of your project plan through everyone in the office to get their input.  And while technology now allows us to track changes in Word documents and do online discussions and collaboration boards, I think there is much to be said for gathering input low tech every now and then.  So if you want to generate great ideas, ones that will truly move people, might I suggest you try moving your ideas to other people?  Literally?

Imagine a corkboard or whiteboard on which you post your idea.  It could be a text outline or description, a mindmap, or even a collage of images and headlines.  Just make it substantial enough that people get the sense of what you are trying to accomplish.  Be sure to include the goal to be achieved or problem you're trying to solve and any specifics about the input you would most value.

Now roll the Roaming Idea Seeking Input into someone else's work area (preferably when they aren't around so you surprise them) along with a posted note: "Hey, I'm an idea in search of input to make me better.  Can you help?  Please take 5-10 minutes to share your thoughts.  Then pass me on to someone else whose perspective you think would be helpful.  Just return me today by 5 p.m. to ____."

The whiteboard gives people a place to gather engage individually or in a small group that is quite different than receiving a Word document to review: your physical engagement is more significant, the scale of what you are reviewing is more substantial, and you can scan all the information at once instead of flipping through individual pages. Instead of your idea being one more attachment in a folder or one more paper in a stack on a desk, it has presence that is potentially more inviting  And if it was me, I'd attach a bag of candy or granola bars to the board so people get a snack while thinking how to improve upon your idea.  Finally, there is something fun about deciding who to roll the idea to next, whose input you want to encourage.

If you like this approach, consider other variations: initiate an Idea Input chain letter (I know not everyone will like this) sending it to a few individuals in your network and ask them to in turn share it with five more people in theirs, again with a deadline for input.  Or create an Idea Graffiti Board (Corkboard.me is an electronic option) and park your rolling whiteboard (or the same info on flipchart paper or newsprint) in an office common area where people can gather and post input throughout the day.  Instead of a specific idea post a weekly question to the graffiti board such as "What's one thing we could do to operate more efficiently and save time?"

Regardless of the approach, we each need to incorporate more time and more techniques to tap into the collective wisdom of colleagues.  As Steven Johnson notes in his recent book Where Good Ideas Come From, a lot of innovation happens through the cross-pollinating of ideas and accidental discoveries from informal sharing.  Similarly, in his book The Medici Effect, Franz Johansson asserted the importance of The Intersection, a place where people and ideas from different perspectives and disciplines can connect and create with each other. 
 
What other habits could you embrace to increase the likelihood of that happening in your own efforts?

2 comments:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

Visual person that I am, I'd like a wall or walls painted w/ chalkboard paint and a bunch of dust-free pieces of chalk in colors and the possibility of everyone participating in graphic facilitation - with words and pictures - their ideas.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

I think the Idea Paint walls are a great addition to individual offices and common spaces. Actually the idea for the rolling whiteboard came after seeing a staff person's single Idea Paint wall in her office. I think it would be great if we created more visual engagement options so people could select based on the goal for their effort, the time and people involved, etc.